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A League of His Own


I felt like a chump after reading an article in The Wall Street Journal last night, realizing that I am “in a whole other league” compared to this guy. Here are the opening paragraphs (Emphasis mine; I cannot link to the article as it requires a subscription login):

POCANTICO HILLS, N. Y.—Some might say David Rockefeller, a scion of America’s greatest fortune and the veteran chief executive of Chase Manhattan Bank, was a dedicated networker long before the age of Facebook.

That would grossly understate his horizons. Mr. Rockefeller recorded contact information along with every meeting he had with about 100,000 people world-wide on white 3-by-5-inch index cards. He amassed about 200,000 of the cards, which filled a custom-built Rolodex machine. He kept the 5-foot high electronic device at his family’s suite of offices in New York City’s Rockefeller Center for about half a century.

In the annals of CEO history, the breadth and depth of this record of contacts stand out,’’ said Nancy Koehn, a Harvard business professor and historian.  “This is a man with a large, long reach.’’

Sample card, for Richard Nixon:


David Rockefeller was the grandson of John D. Rockefeller, but famous in his own right, having served as a primary shareholder and chairman of the board of Chase Manhattan, largest bank in America at the time.

The article explains Mr. Rockefeller’s meticulous record-keeping on the top-secret cards–a vault so secret it was only revealed when he died this year at age 101. His will stipulates the cards may not be fully released for at least 10 more years.

Many of the entries were typed on the cards, with some notations made by hand. Information that was out of date was crossed out.

Most of the seven cards shown in the article (Trump, Reagan, Nixon, Eisenhower, Sadat, Mandela, Gates) have multiple appointments listed. Here are some of items I noticed on some or all of the cards:

  • Name
  • Spouse’s Name
  • Greeting format (“Mr. President”, “Dick”, “Bill and Melinda”)
  • All relevant addresses and phone numbers; many of the phone numbers and postal codes are the pre-1970 formats!
  • Short notes on face-to-face appointments (date, location, context)
  • Public information not from a personal appt (e.g., election to presidency; cite newspaper article about a life change)


Here’s one comment about a visit with Nelson Mandela:

7/5/93-DR hosted dinner honoring above, Rainbow Pavillion. Gave DR beaded belt. M/M J. Wayne Fredericks helped him pick it out. DRs putting it in a glass frame.

If David Rockefeller had 100,000 people covering 200,000 cards, it is safe to say that the number of data entries must have numbered in the millions. Admittedly, he probably had a personal secretary updating these cards, a luxury I have not had!

I am staggered, yet envious, of this kind of detail. Many times since I started using TNT I have wished that I had kept the records of every support-raising contact and appointment I had. Sadly, like many missionaries I “threw away the card box” [metaphorically; mine was electronic] once I reported to my assignment. Initially I contacted more than 1,000 people on my road to full support, but the vast majority did not make it into TNT because the Excel files were discarded years before TNT came along… remember back when file storage was limited to little plastic disks that held little? “Why would I want to keep this?” I probably asked myself in 1990s.

But I do take heart that since TNT came into my life I have in a very poor emulation done the same thing, and why TNT is also “in a league of its own” in terms of software. My two TntConnect databases have in them 3321 names and (not including data changes) more than 51,000 rows in the history log. And that only represents my last 15 years—less than half of the 31 years I have been raising support for my organization. The very fact I was able to come up with those two numbers (3321 contacts + 51000 history items) in about one minute is evidence of the data-managing power of TNT.

When I joined my organization full-time I was actually trained using an Index Card system quite similar to Mr. Rockefeller’s. Maybe to my detriment, upon returning home I immediately switched to “my own homemade system” (that is, a simple spreadsheet). Yet I know several people today who still maintain their entire partner list on index cards. What a treasure!