James D. Robinson III, Former Chief of American Express, Dies at 88

James D. Robinson III, who as chief executive of the American Express Company from 1977 to 1993 helped transform Wall Street into a more competitive financial marketplace, with a wide diversity of businesses housed under single roofs, died on Monday in Rosalyn, N.Y., on Long Island. He was 88.

The death, at a hospital, was caused by respiratory failure from recurrent pneumonia, Walter Montgomery, a spokesman for the family, wrote in an announcement.

A soft-spoken son of the Georgia gentry, Mr. Robinson followed a well-worn path to financial success, power and influence: from private school to the Ivy League and then on to the moneyed canyons of Lower Manhattan, with side trips to the corridors of Capitol Hill.

In Washington, he was among Wall Street’s most influential advocates for deregulating the financial industry and widening its horizons. Some called him the unofficial secretary of state for corporate America.

The deregulation he fought for was largely accomplished with Congress’s repeal of the Depression-era Glass-Steagall legislation in 1999. As a result, commercial banks became empowered to underwrite and trade corporate securities and own insurance companies.

This cultural shift also prompted the securities industry to respond with increasingly sophisticated and complex computer-enabled products. Among them were highly leveraged derivatives that figured importantly in the market meltdown of 2008.

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