Richard Rosenberg, a marketing whiz of humble origins who transformed Bank of America into a national behemoth under his leadership, died on March 3 at his home in San Francisco. He was 92.
His sons Peter and Michael Rosenberg confirmed the death.
After many years with San Francisco-based Wells Fargo, Mr. Rosenberg moved across town to join Bank of America in 1987, recruited by its chief executive at the time, Tom Clausen, to run its California operations as the bank was restructuring following a run of bad loans in the early 1980s.
Mr. Rosenberg helped make the bank profitable again by creating new products and lines of business, like credit cards. He was named chief executive and chairman in 1990 and soon turned Bank of America into the nation’s second-largest bank through a series of acquisitions, including a 1992 deal with Security Pacific that at the time was the biggest banking merger ever.
The deal making was important to the bank’s growth, said Mike Rossi, a former Bank of America executive who worked under Mr. Rosenberg for many years.
“He was a very creative guy — he knew how to meet the markets,” Mr. Rossi said. Mr. Rosenberg, he added, brought the bank “back from an abyss” in great part through innovations like credit cards and “bundling” multiple products and services in a single account, making banking more convenient and attracting new customers.
Bundling is now a common marketing strategy used by many companies, but it was new to banking when Mr. Rosenberg introduced it to Bank of America, offering mixed accounts that allowed access to deposits, investments and obligations.
For Mr. Rosenberg, leadership was not about “sitting at a big desk,” Mr. Rossi said, but rather about knowing what consumers wanted and communities needed, having made it his policy to travel to branches to talk to the people who worked and banked there.
Mr. Rossi recalled that after the police beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1992, he was watching the city erupt in riots on the news when Mr. Rosenberg called and gave him one hour to come up with a plan to help neighborhoods affected by the riots to rebuild. The next day, they began setting up a $200 million loan program, knowing it could be a total loss and have to be written off.
“I can’t tell you the exact impact, but I can tell you there was no other bank C.E.O. who committed to L.A. like that,” Mr. Rossi said. “He understood stewardship.”
Richard Morris Rosenberg was born on April 21, 1930, in Fall River, Mass., to Charles and Betty (Peckowitz) Rosenberg. His father was a World War I combat veteran and haberdasher who lost his job and the family home during the Great Depression. His mother was an immigrant from Russia.
Richard graduated from Suffolk University in Boston in 1953 and joined the Navy shortly afterward. In a 2011 article in the naval publication Proceedings, he wrote that he had learned leadership in the Navy as an officer stationed on ships in Asia and Europe. He served during the Korean War and spent 12 years in the Naval Reserves, reaching the rank of commander.
In 1956, Mr. Rosenberg married Barbara Cohen, who had been his high school junior prom date but whom he hadn’t seen for many years until they met in New York.
In addition to their sons, she survives him along with five grandsons.
Moving to San Francisco in 1959, Mr. Rosenberg began his career in banking at Crocker-Anglo, selling payroll services.
He then spent 22 years at Wells Fargo, moving up in marketing and advertising positions to the finance side and, finally, to the role of vice chairman.
Before joining Bank of America, which also had its headquarters in San Francisco then (it is now based in Charlotte, N.C.), Mr. Rosenberg was briefly president of Crocker-National, then president and chief operating officer of Seattle-First National Bank and Seafirst Corporation, a Bank of America subsidiary in Seattle.
While working and raising children, Mr. Rosenberg earned a law degree and an M.B.A. at Golden Gate University in San Francisco.
He retired from Bank of America in 1996.
In later years, as a wealthy philanthropist, Mr. Rosenberg never forgot his humble origins (or lost his broad Boston accent), his sons said. At his death, he and his wife had donated money to more than 150 organizations, including Suffolk University, his alma mater, where they created the Rosenberg Institute for East Asian Studies.
Ronald Suleski, the institute’s director, recalled being hired in 2009 and flying out to California to meet the couple. He found Mr. Rosenberg to be jovial but also probing.
“Dick would smile a lot,” Mr. Suleski said. “But I was a little afraid of him because his intellect was so sharp. You never knew what question he could ask.”
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