John C. Whitehead was born in Evanston, Illinois. He grew up in Montclair, New Jersey, attended public schools there and graduated from Montclair High School. He lived in nearby Essex Fells until 1985 and has resided in Manhattan since 1989.
Mr. Whitehead graduated from Haverford College in 1943, and served in the U.S. Navy, participating in the invasions of Normandy, Southern France, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. While still in the Navy, Mr. Whitehead was assigned as an instructor at Harvard Business School. He received his M.B.A. degree, with distinction, from Harvard in 1947 and holds honorary degrees from Haverford, Pace, Rutgers, Amherst, Harvard, General Theological Seminary, Berea College, Bates College, The New School and Macaulay Honors College at CUNY.
Mr. Whitehead began his professional career in 1947 at Goldman, Sachs & Co., where he worked for 38 years. He rose quickly within the company and was named Partner in 1956, and Co-Chairman and Senior Partner in 1976. He has served on the board of numerous companies, and as a Director of the New York Stock Exchange, and Chairman of the Securities Industry Association.
In April 1985, Mr. Whitehead was asked to become Deputy Secretary of State, second-in-command to Secretary George Shultz, and served until January 1989. During this period, he was Acting Secretary of State when Mr. Shultz was away from Washington and took a special interest in relations with Eastern Europe, the United Nations, and with various administrative reforms in the State Department. Mr. Whitehead was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal by President Reagan.
Since returning to New York from Washington in 1989, he has been active in a number of educational, civic and charitable organizations. He is a former Chairman of the Goldman Sachs Foundation, the Board of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the United Nations Association, the International Rescue Committee, International House, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Harvard Board of Overseers and Haverford College (not all at the same time). He is also Chairman of the Greater New York Councils of the Boy Scouts. He is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Eisenhower Exchange Fellowships and a former Director of Rockefeller University, Lincoln Center Theater, the J. Paul Getty Trust, Outward Bound, and the National Humanities Center. Mr. Whitehead is Chairman Emeritus of The Asia Society, Brookings Institution, and the Trustees Council of the National Gallery of Art. He is Director Emeritus, the East-West Institute.
In late 2001, he was appointed Chairman of the Board of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the organization responsible for the rebuilding and revitalization of Lower Manhattan. He served in that position until May 2006. He is also the Founding Chairman of the National September 11th Memorial and Museum at the World Trade Center.