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News Stories · Leadership

Jim Wolfensohn, former head of World Bank and IMD alumnus, passes away

The Australian focused the World Bank’s core purpose on ending extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity
November 2020

James (Jim) Wolfensohn, who served as the ninth president of the World Bank Group and had a close connection with IMD, passed away on Wednesday aged 86.

Carlos Braga, former Professor of International Political Economy and Director of the Evian Group at IMD, met Wolfensohn on campus. “He will be missed by all who got to know him as a leader committed to economic development, the fight against corruption and technological innovation,” said Professor Braga.

Wolfensohn’s links with IMD go back to the very origins of the school. He arrived in Lausanne fresh from Harvard Business School in 1959, when IMD operated under the name IMEDE.

Reminiscing about his studies, Wolfensohn once said: “I was not a great student; I’d come from Australia as a young lawyer, trying to learn something about finance and I remember my interview was one where I thought there was no chance of my coming to IMEDE.”

Asked by the interviewer about his interests, Wolfensohn said he wanted international exposure to add to his “quite narrow” Australian point of view. “I hoped to help write good cases, but also to emerge… with a better understanding of Europe and maybe one day that would be helpful to somebody, including to me,” he added.

Wolfensohn became an Australian-American lawyer, investment banker and economist.

He was appointed by US President Bill Clinton as head of the World Bank in 1995, and was one of its longest-serving leaders — only the third in the institution’s history to be reappointed.

Wolfensohn relinquished his Australian citizenship to become an American in order to be eligible for the role, which by convention has always been held by a US citizen.

He would visit IMD many years later in June 2014 and meet with faculty members including former IMD President Dominique Turpin and Peter Wuffli, Honorary Chairman of the IMD Foundation and Supervisory Boards.

Turpin, now Dentsu Chaired Professor of Marketing and Dean of External Relations at IMD, wrote a tribute on LinkedIn expressing sadness over Wolfensohn’s death and highlighting his connection to IMD.

Professor Turpin said: “In his autobiography, A Global Life: My Journey among Rich and Poor, from Wall Street to the World Bank, he kindly mentioned that to have spent one year with us was a good transition from academic life to the real world. Sir James, rest in peace, we will miss you very much!”

Asked during his 2014 visit to IMD to give one piece of career advice to that year’s graduating MBA class, Wolfensohn said: “I would say spend at least a year getting a view of what the world is going to be [like] in the 2050s.

“It’s a different world in 2050, and to make decisions about the obvious career paths based on the past will almost inevitably be wrong for the future, because it’s not a Euro-centric world or an American-centric world, it’s an Asian world.”

Wolfensohn will be remembered for focusing the World Bank’s core purpose on ending extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity — his legacy.