Jerome Paul Kenney of Seven Gates Farm, one of the great strategic minds on Wall Street, and known for his deep love of family, died peacefully at his Manhattan home on June 25. He was 77. The cause was pulmonary fibrosis.
Robert Kapito, president of BlackRock, once called Jerry “a true legend in our business, known for his strategic brilliance, formidable competitiveness, impeccable courtesy, deceptively alluring calm, relentless work ethic, and unassailable integrity.”
He was born on July 26, 1941, in Newton, the second son of Francis J. and Madeline (Navien) Kenney. His father, the son of Irish immigrants, never went to college, and worked as a traveling glove salesman. While caddying as a teenager at elite Boston golf clubs, Jerry’s father had observed that many successful people were graduates of Ivy League universities. Wanting a better life for his children, Francis encouraged his sons to apply to Harvard or Yale. Jerry’s mother, a graduate of Boston’s Emmanuel College, had the education and discipline to implement this vision. The four brothers, Brian, Jerry, Robert, and Richard, all played football at Yale, while sister Maureen graduated from Emmanuel College.
Throughout his life, Jerry was driven by a vision and passion to make things better for his family, colleagues, and community.
At age 11, he started his own lawn business in his Newton neighborhood, and by age 15 commanded 17 lawns to help support his large family. This drive would catapult him into the upper echelons of Wall Street and frame decades of commitment to community service.
Holding a bachelor’s in economics from Yale and an M.B.A. in finance from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern, Jerry started his career as a research analyst at White Weld & Co., a boutique investment bank, becoming director of research and ranked No. 1 by Institutional Investor Magazine. When Merrill Lynch acquired White Weld in 1978, he seized the opportunity, ultimately becoming president of ML Capital Markets in 1984 and building Merrill investment banking throughout the world.
In 1985, he pushed Merrill to invest $39 million in Bloomberg L.P., a stake later sold for more than $4.5 billion. In 2006, he helped engineer the sale to BlackRock of ML Asset Management, where he joined as a senior advisor in corporate strategy, helping advise the leadership of the firm through a number of large acquisitions, including Barclays Global Investors.
CEO Larry Fink credited Jerry with helping to navigate the firm through a period of dramatic growth. “Jerry’s wisdom was indispensable in guiding us through that period and setting us on a path to growth. His counsel and advice were grounded in decades of experience that he combined with his unique style and grace,” he said.
Jerry’s greatest passion was investing in people, and people were instinctively drawn to him. Always ready to listen and provide his perspective, he had a way of making people feel better, smarter, and more confident after spending time with him. He was an extraordinary mentor, with the courage to tell people hard truths but also the grace to help them understand a way forward. With Jerry, you didn’t just get advice, you got an assignment. That approach — kindness and discipline together — suffused everything he did.
He served as treasurer and head of the finance committee of the Nightingale Bamford School, as well as a member of the boards of the Stanford Business School, Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Business Management, and the Yale School of Management.
He met his wife, Carol Brock Kenney, in 1973 when she worked as an economist at Loeb, Rhoades, & Co, after spending several years at the N.Y. Federal Reserve. They were married in 1975, and enjoyed a decade working on Wall Street at competing firms, sharing many of the same professional friends. By 1982, Jerry was heading Merrill Lynch Capital Markets, and Carol, through mergers, was the chief economist of Shearson American Express. Carol and Jerry also enjoyed classical music, opera, and collecting African art.
In 1991, they chose Martha’s Vineyard, with its traditional New England values, as the ideal place to raise their two young daughters when school calendars would allow. Carol and daughters spent 13 weeks of summer, every school vacation, and three of every four weekends on-Island, where the girls had best friends. Not surprisingly, the Vineyard was the site of their fondest memories of their father.
Jerry’s passions also extended to renovating several historic homes on Martha’s Vineyard, where his family vacationed year-round. Gifted in spatial relations, he could easily see in three dimensions, and as a hobby loved poring over architectural drawings to improve structures. In 2003, Carol and Jerry received a Vineyard Conservation award for their restoration of the 1719 Tilton house on Middle Road in West Tisbury.
He is survived by his wife, two daughters, a son-in-law, four siblings, 11 nieces and nephews, and their families.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Misty Meadows Equine Learning Center. Misty staff and their 10 horses have so far helped over 2,000 people (mvhorsecenter.org).
A celebration of life is planned for October in Manhattan, and his remains will be interred in the family plot at Abel’s Hill Cemetery in Chilmark.