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Rudolph A. Peterson, 98; Extended Global Reach of Bank of America

Times Staff Writer

Rudolph Arvid “Rudy” Peterson, who made Bank of America an international entity as its chief executive officer from 1963 to 1970 and later managed the United Nations Development Program, has died. He was 98.

Peterson died Dec. 2 at his home in Piedmont, Calif., near San Francisco, of natural causes.

Born in Svenljunga, Sweden, on Dec. 6, 1904, the same year that A.P. Giannini founded what became Bank of America, Peterson was known throughout his long career as a troubleshooter with uncanny organizational ability and a forward thinker who believed consumer credit could improve wage-earners’ lives.

As head of Bank of America, he was credited with extending the global reach of what was then the world’s largest commercial bank, multiplying its overseas branches from 16 in the early 1960s to 97 by the time he stepped down. He also nearly doubled the bank’s operations from $14 billion to $25 billion and oversaw construction of a 52-story headquarters in San Francisco.

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“Bank of America was not an international operation when he became the CEO in 1963,” A.W. “Tom” Clausen, who succeeded Peterson, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Rudy extended the scope of Bank of America greatly. He had a vision that the world is getting smaller, that it’s interdependent. He made the bank an international force.”

Peterson retired in 1970 but remained on the bank’s board until 1998.

From 1972 to 1976 he was the head of the United Nations Development Program.

For the U.N., he supervised an international staff of 4,000, providing billions of dollars in technical help to more than 100 developing countries. Applying principles he used in bank administration, he tightened bureaucracy and placed decision-making in the hands of resident representatives abroad instead of funneling everything through headquarters.

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“More and more, countries are looking to us to coordinate their planning in development because the new system gives them faster answers,” Peterson told The Times in 1974.

Peterson relished the job as a way he could help feed the world’s hungry-- citing for The Times the development of a high-protein corn in Mexico that he hoped to plant in 15 other poor, arid countries.

Although he strode the world as something of a financial diplomat, Peterson began life humbly. He was brought from rural Sweden to rural California at the age of 2 and grew up on a dairy and fruit farm near Hilmar.

Peterson hoped to study medicine, but worked his way through UC Berkeley to a degree in banking and finance.

He began his career after graduation in 1925, repossessing items from delinquent borrowers of the Commercial Credit Co. Over the next 11 years, he rose to manager of its Mexico City office and finally division operations manager in Chicago.

In 1936, Bank of America invited Peterson to organize its installment financing operation, beginning as office manager in Fresno.

Within 10 years, he was vice president of the San Francisco-based bank’s statewide consumer credit loans.

From 1946 to 1952, Peterson was president of Allied Building Credits Inc., a subsidiary of Transamerica Corp., a holding company of Bank of America, and in 1952 he was named vice president of Transamerica, supervising operations in five Western states.

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Peterson spent 1955 to 1961, which he often referred to as “the golden years,” in Honolulu as vice president and then president and managing executive officer of the Bank of Hawaii. During his tenure, he opened 22 new branches, doubled deposits and tripled earnings.

Bank of America lured him back in late 1961 to be groomed as CEO, a position he gained on Nov. 1, 1963. Best-known for establishing the bank’s international credentials, he also encouraged widespread marketing of the bank’s credit card, early use of computers for electronic data processing and personal interaction with customers.

Widowed by the death of his first wife, Patricia, in 1960, Peterson is survived by his wife of 41 years, Barbara; his two children, Linnea Bennett and R. Price Peterson; four stepchildren, Robert, Lorna, Anne and Margaret Lindsay; 10 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

Memorial donations may be sent either to the California Academy of Sciences Education Division, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA 94118, or to the Piedmont Community Church, 400 Highland Ave., Piedmont, CA 94611.


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