Leaving government for the first time in 15 years, Mr. Rumsfeld became president and chief executive of G.D. Searle & Company, the pharmaceutical maker, which was struggling. He turned the company around by cutting costs, selling subsidiaries and developing the artificial sweetener NutraSweet, which made billions after its approval by the Food and Drug Administration. In 1985, the company was sold to Monsanto, a move that made Mr. Rumsfeld wealthy.
On leave from Searle for six months in 1983 and 1984, Mr. Rumsfeld was President Reagan’s special envoy to the Middle East. He became a conduit for extending American intelligence and military aid to Iraq, then at war with neighboring Iran. American support for Iraq’s dictatorship and Mr. Rumsfeld’s meetings with President Hussein were not particularly controversial at a time of mounting concern over the expansion of Iran’s Islamic revolution.
Having flirted with political races from time to time, Mr. Rumsfeld explored runs for the United States Senate in 1986 and for the Republican presidential nomination in 1988 and 1996, but did not pursue them. In 1996, he was the national campaign chairman for Senator Bob Dole, the Republican presidential nominee, who lost to the incumbent, Bill Clinton.
Making His Fortune
From 1990 to 1993, Mr. Rumsfeld was chairman and chief executive of the General Instrument Corporation, an electronics manufacturer that specialized in cable, satellite and ground-based broadcasting applications and pioneered the first all-digital high-definition television technology. Mr. Rumsfeld took the company public and made another fortune.
From 1997 to 2001, he was chairman of Gilead Sciences, the developer of Tamiflu, used in the treatment of bird flu. After he became defense secretary in 2001, he recused himself from any decisions involving Gilead, but his holdings in the company grew substantially when avian flu prompted widespread anxiety over a possible pandemic.
Over the years, questions were raised about Mr. Rumsfeld’s work as a director of many corporations, including some defense contractors. But he denied any wrongdoing, and none was ever demonstrated.
His complex character — he was a creative and dedicated reformer to admirers, a vain and egotistical bully to detractors — was the subject of endless debate and analysis in public forums, newspaper and magazine articles, television documentaries and books.