Who Is Henry Paulson?

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is the architect of the $700 billion financial bailout. Who exactly is Paulson? Newsweek columnist Daniel Gross says Paulson has the tools, experience, contacts and instincts to hammer out deals involving financial firms.

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And I'm Michele Norris. And we're going to learn more now about the man who's organizing what might be the biggest bailout in American history. There are a few key things that most people know about Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. He was the former chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs. Back in the '70s, he worked in the Nixon White House. But since Paulson spent most of his professional life in the private sector, there is much the public does not know. The current issue of Newsweek magazine posed a question we've been pondering here. Who is this guy who's become, by default, the face of American capitalism? Daniel Gross wrote the Newsweek story called "The Captain of Wall Street," and he joins us now. Welcome to the program, Mr. Gross.

BLOCK: Thanks, Michele.

NORRIS: In your profile, you try to answer that question. And you note that Paulson is in some ways the ideal person to deal with the Wall Street mess. Why?

BLOCK: Well, he spent 32 years on Wall Street working for Goldman Sachs, which is really the elite among the elite of investment banks. So, he understands the capital markets, what's going on on Wall Street, what motivates the players on Wall Street, far better then either of his predecessors. So Paulson has the tools, the experience, the contacts and the instincts to hammer out these kind of deals involving financial firms.

NORRIS: Do me a favor and very quickly tick through Mr. Paulson's resume, beginning with his college years at Dartmouth, where I understand he was called The Hammer.

BLOCK: He was offensive lineman at Dartmouth, class of 1968. He was all-Ivy and Phi Beta Kappa, worked in Washington briefly, was in the Nixon White House, a Harvard MBA. Then joined Goldman Sachs in 1974 in Chicago. Spent his entire career there; he was an investment banker, helped build up their Asian business, rose to CEO, and was known really as someone who is very disciplined, hardworking, hard-charging. Not a schmoozer, not a back-slapper but focused on execution, details, and getting deals done.

NORRIS: He is a very rich man. His stake in Golden Sachs was worth more than $500 million when he left the firm. That value has certainly dropped in the past 10 days but still, incredible wealth we're talking about. Does he have affluent roots?

BLOCK: He does not come from big money. He certainly made a lot. And he was also known for being involved in some charitable causes. He was the chairman of the Nature Conservancy. He's a big tree hugger and bird-watcher.

NORRIS: In terms of economic theory, who's his guru?

BLOCK: Well, right now he's a member of the church of what works today. He has been a free-market Wall Street creature his whole life. Now that Wall Street is imploding, he has embraced government activism on a level not seen since the New Deal.

NORRIS: Any quick anecdote or a very quick story you could relay that speaks to his leadership style at Goldman Sachs and might provide a clue as to how he might deal with the road ahead?

BLOCK: There was an episode in 1994 when the bank had lost a lot of money. It was still a private partnership. People were leaving, and they were trying to convince people why they should stay. And one person talked about the culture of the firm, how they needed to stick together. Another talked about the history, and all they had been through. And he stood up and talked about the nuts and bolts. Here's how we lost the money. Here's how we're going to get back to profitability. This is why you should stay. These are the things we're going to execute. It's a similar sort of thing to what he's doing now.

NORRIS: Does he shift down or shift up under pressure?

BLOCK: I think he's pretty steady. You see him on TV. He has a very even keel. He's someone who obviously has a great amount of stamina in terms of his ability to work around the clock. He told me that, you know, for him the only difference between Saturday and Sunday on the one hand, and Monday and Tuesday on the other, is that on Monday and Tuesday the markets are open.

NORRIS: Daniel Gross, thanks so much for being with us.

BLOCK: Thank you.

NORRIS: Daniel Gross is a columnist and a senior editor for Newsweek magazine. He was speaking to us about an article in the current issue called "The Captain of the Street," a profile of Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

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