WASHINGTON -- President Clinton has chosen James D. Wolfensohn, an investment banker and arts patron, as president of the World Bank, the White House announced yesterday.
The selection is formally a recommendation to the World Bank's directors, who elect the president. By tradition, the World Bank presidency goes to an American and the directorship of the International Monetary Fund to a European.
Mr. Wolfensohn, 61, will succeed Lewis T. Preston, who is ill with cancer and who has asked to retire before his five-year term ends next year.
The administration chose the Australian-born Mr. Wolfensohn, a naturalized U.S. citizen, over two other insiders: Lawrence H. Summers, under secretary of the Treasury for international affairs and a former World Bank chief economist, and Stanley Fischer, also a former chief economist at the bank and now a deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund.
Mr. Wolfensohn, who actively sought the World Bank presidency, has maintained his investment banking business in New York while serving part time and without salary since 1990 as chairman of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington. Mr. Wolfensohn told people he was eager to continue the work of Mr. Preston in cutting the World Bank's staff.
Mr. Wolfensohn, a member of Australia's fencing team in the 1956 Olympics, became a U.S. citizen in 1980. The chairman of his firm, James D. Wolfensohn Inc., which advises major corporate clients, is Paul A. Volcker, the former Federal Reserve chairman.
Before founding his firm in 1981, Mr. Wolfensohn was a partner in Salomon Brothers, an investment firm, for four years. He received undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Sydney and a master's degree in business administration from Harvard Business School.
A cellist, he served as chairman of Carnegie Hall for more than 10 years and helped raise money for refurbishing the hall in time for its centennial.
As chairman of the cash-starved Kennedy Center, he has raised money to help it remain open. His daughter, Sara, is a concert pianist. He and his wife have two other children.
The World Bank entered its second half-century this year facing a variety of difficult choices, including questions about the environmental consequences of its large-scale development projects and doubts about the efficacy of channeling money to state-owned enterprises in countries with unstable governments.
The bank, which issues about $17 billion in loans each year, has been spending increasing amounts on environmental and human development projects, but it has been criticized for giving inadequate attention to both those areas. An ad hoc coalition of environmentalists, human rights advocates and some competing aid groups, calling itself the "50 Years is Enough" campaign, said last year that the bank should mark its 50th anniversary by going out of business.
The World Bank job pays $190,000 a year plus a $90,000-a-year expense account.