Lynn Forester De Rothschild

Moving Forward

Lynn Forester de Rothschild ’79 looks to the future with optimism as she continues to build on an exceptional business career.

By Christopher Mason

Summer 2009

In the summer of 1976, Lynn Forester de Rothschild ’79 was planning to study law at Georgetown when Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then a first-time candidate for the U.S. Senate, decided that his bright young assistant was too valuable an asset to lose to Washington.

“The campaign was heating up, and Pat didn’t think I should leave New York,” de Rothschild
recalls. “I had applied to Columbia Law School but hadn’t heard back, so he called up and suggested they [inform me of a decision on] my application.”

The admissions determination that came shortly thereafter pleased both de Rothschild and Moynihan, and three decades later, she remains grateful for his intervention. This past spring, she endowed a fellowship in the four-term senator’s name at Columbia Law School that will be awarded annually to a qualified law student.

Palpably dynamic and radiant at 54, de Rothschild has blazed a remarkable career in business. During a four-year stint in the early ’80s as an associate at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, she did legal work for John Kluge, the telecommunications titan, who hired her to oversee development for his company, Metromedia. She left in 1989 to start a string of her own communications businesses across the United States, Latin America, and Western Europe. They eventually reached heights that not even de Rothschild could have imagined.

She credits the Law School for instilling a keen strategic interest in the complicated details and legal protections that can be elemental in constructing a deal. That skill set, de Rothschild says, serves her well, and it complements her entrepreneurial instincts. “There’s an indelible mark of Columbia Law School in everything I do in business,” de Rothschild says. “The most valuable thing [the Law School] taught me was how to think through a problem. It prompted me to think beyond what I see on a page or hear in a meeting and to think a lot about structure, as well as substance.”

In 1998, Henry Kissinger introduced her to Sir Evelyn de Rothschild, a scion of the English branch of the European banking family, whom she married in 2000. They live in New York and London and are partners in E.L. Rothschild, a private investment firm.

In 2004, the couple formed a joint venture in Delhi to develop and export Indian agriculture. “Our operating assumption was that there was a greater potential for value creation for private capital in India than was possible in Europe or America,” de Rothschild says. After observing the first collapse of Bear Stearns in 2007, they sensed a downward slide in the global economy and successfully liquidated their Indian holdings in June 2008. It proved to be a wise move, and they are currently reviewing new investment prospects, anticipating that the Dow will rebound in 2010.

“Frankly, I’m spending more time in America because we think there are a lot of opportunities here,” she says.

“To borrow a phrase from President Obama,” she adds, “we’re in restart mode.”

Christopher Mason is a New York–based writer and a frequent contributor to The New York Times.

Photographed by Alessandra Petlin