Banker and transport adviser
Friday 13 October 2006
John Davis Kramer, transport adviser and investment banker: born Monrovia, California 25 September 1948; Director of Policy and Planning, Illinois Department of Transportation 1973-77, Transportation Secretary 1977-84, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Chicago Regional Transportation Authority 1982-84; Chief Executive Officer, Chicago World's Fair Authority 1984-85; founder and chairman, Kramer Associates 1985-92; executive director, Goldman Sachs 1992-95; chairman and chief executive officer, CA IB Infrastructure Project Advisers 1995-99; chairman and chief executive officer, Infrastructure Capital Partners 1999-2006; married 1972 Susan Richards (one son, one daughter); died London 22 September 2006.
A leading figure in US transport planning in the 1970s and 1980s, John Kramer brought his skills, knowledge and foresight to transport infrastructure in Europe, and his campaigning instincts to supporting his wife Susan, the Liberal Democrat candidate for Mayor of London in 2000 and now MP for Richmond Park.
Kramer was born in California in 1948 and studied Political Science and International Relations at Stanford, then Politics and Economics at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he met his future wife (they were married in 1972). His own politics were forged in the anti-Vietnam War movement, and in Berlin, Dresden and Prague in the revolutionary spring of 1968.
He refused the US Army draft and became involved in the environmental movement; the Highway Action Coalition that he founded ensured the passage of the 1973 Highway Act, ending the near-monopoly grip of road building on US government money. Kramer joined President Richard Nixon for the signing of the Act; he kept the pen, but was less enthusiastic about photos of himself with Nixon.
Having been recruited to Illinois in 1973 to shift the focus on transport away from roads, the 28-year-old Democrat Kramer was appointed Secretary of Transportation in 1977 by the newly elected Republican Governor, James Thompson. In the face of Republican criticism, Thompson deferred a news conference to introduce Kramer, but then named him anyway, having thought it over - "I was thinking he was the most effective transportation secretary in the nation."
Kramer had already been key to stopping plans for a highway championed by the Chicago Mayor Richard Daley that would have sliced the city in half, and negotiated for Illinois to keep the funding allocated for the project. He was determined that the money committed should remain in the community to finance public transport. It went towards two important commuter rail lines.
Kramer restructured the Illinois transportation funding systems, with new transport taxes and user charges, revenue bond financing and public-private partnership structures. The chairmanship and post of chief executive officer of the Chicago Regional Transportation Authority were added to his role, and he converted its $14.5m deficit to a $90m surplus. This was 1980s America, where the car was king, and Kramer was moving money from roads and investing in trains and buses.
With typical enthusiasm, when the Berlin Wall came down John and Susan Kramer took their children to be there. John Kramer's interest in Central and Eastern Europe had already led him to establish relationships with reform movements including Solidarity in Poland and the New Forum Movements in former East Germany and Czechoslovakia, and he advised these groups on development, transport and other infrastructure when they took over government in 1989/90. At this time he also pioneered waste-water reclamation and re-use systems in Hungary, Poland and Jamaica.
Moving to London in 1992, initially as an executive director of Goldman Sachs, Kramer made a tangible contribution to the task of creating a modern transport infrastructure that integrated Europe. He gave a lot of effort to the Central Railway rail freight project, linking the Channel Tunnel to the North of England, and served as lead banker/adviser on some of Europe's largest public-private transport projects, among them Berlin Airport, the Munich-Verona rail project and the Elb Tunnel project in Germany.
John Kramer was a big man, and especially big in spirit. Those who worked with him on political campaigns in London saw how he glowed with pride at his wife's achievements. They may have guessed that his support was in more than the practical things, though his ineptitude with a hammer ("The most feared words in the English language are 'Some self-assembly required'," he said) did not stop him being a champion at erecting poster boards. Not many realised how often handing out leaflets and knocking on doors was done on his way to or from the airport, and how much of his and Susan's consultation on a political issue might take place on a mobile in the intervals of a major negotiation.
John Kramer's family meant more to him than anything. His delight in his newly born granddaughter was very evident. His kindness and generosity to everyone could hardly be contained. Despite the pressures of work, when he arrived in London ahead of his family he spent time with Molly, the family dog, at her quarantine kennels. And always, when he met you, he would say, "Hi, great to see you" - as if you were the very person he had most wanted to see.
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