News

Chad Leat’s Life Well-lived

Wednesday, July 11, 2018



On Saturday, guests at the Parrish Art Museum’s Midsummer Party in Water Mill will get to hear from a very special man. This year’s honoree, sixty-two year old Chad Leat is more than just a museum supporter—he is, in many ways, the embodiment of the American Dream. From humble beginnings, he rocketed to a wildly successful career on Wall Street, along the way becoming an avid art collector, a voracious traveler and a dedicated philanthropist.


Sitting on the back porch of The Barnyard, the Bridgehampton home he shares with Kansas, his ten-year-old Norwich terrier, he recalls growing up gay in Tonganoxie, a small farming community (population 2000) in rural Kansas. Though money was tight, and cultural opportunities were few, Chad has no regrets. “I was happy there,” he says eyes sparkling. “But I was always excited for the next thing!”


Chad’s life has been a series of next things, an uninterrupted flow of forward motion in which he not only forges ahead but also gives back.


Early on, he aspired to be the first in his family to get a college degree. He was well on his way to realizing that dream at The University of Kansas when his father died unexpectedly, leaving him unable to pay his tuition. But Chad was undeterred. He took a job selling clothes at Britches Corner, and between a fraternity brother’s family chipping in and his father’s veteran’s checks, he was able to complete his bachelor’s degree in business.


Graduating in 1978, he “was excited to work in finance in the big City.” But without an Ivy League degree or family connections, getting a job wouldn’t be easy.


“My resume didn’t exactly lead me directly to Wall Street,” he says. Fortunately, one of the few female executives in finance at that time “saw something in me” and brought him to New York in 1985. Thus began a thirty-year career where he rose to the top of his field in credit and mergers and acquisitions at several firms including JP Morgan Chase and eventually landing as the Vice Chairman of Global Banking at Citigroup. He was also one of the first openly gay leaders on Wall Street.


Then in 1986, Chad discovered one of the great passions in his life: art collecting. Once again he found mentors to guide his early passage through New York’s famously insider art scene. Eric Green and Jock Thurman, his Chelsea neighbors, took him under their wing inviting him to their popular soirees where he met artists and dealers.


As part of his initiation, Jock convinced Chad to buy a print by a then unknown artist for $750, which for him at the time was a great deal of money. The artist was Keith Haring. “It was the first real piece of art I bought,” he says. Chad later sold it, “for more than a hundred times what I paid.” He had caught the art collecting bug!


“And then Holly Solomon came into my life.”


The renowned collector and gallerist met Chad in the late 80’s and advised him until her death in 2002. She was so involved in Chad’s collecting that she personally installed and lit his art. Pointing to his house he says, “This is the house that Holly hung.” He adds, “When she was passionate about something or someone, she went all in and she was passionate about me for some reason. She aggressively made me buy art.”


Holly was such an integral part of his life that a black and white Mapplethorpe photo of her hangs in the entryway of his apartment in Paris. She helped him curate his world-class collection, which includes works by Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, Ross Bleckner, and Richard Prince among others.


Three years ago, wanting to “get out of my comfort zone” and continue his forward motion, he retired (a word he hates) and bought the apartment in Paris, where he spends about three months a year. At age 59, he taught himself French, an achievement he typically downplays. “With enough time,” he says, “anyone can learn to speak French like an eight year-old boy.”


While perpetually moving onward, Chad also pays back generously. He sits on the board of numerous charitable organizations and loves putting people together both socially and professionally, frequently by entertaining in his homes.


Though anyone would call Chad a man of the world, he hasn’t forgotten his Kansas roots. Recently he made an unprecedented donation to his alma mater, creating a million dollar scholarship fund for students who show leadership in the LBGTQ community.


“I’ve been very fortunate in my life.” Chad says noting that people have helped him at every stage. “Now I have a chance to give back.”


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