Fallen “car czar” Steve Rattner is the subject of a New York piece today on the abrupt plot twist that upended his charmed career.
Rattner drove a hard bargain with the holders of Chrysler and GM bonds in the auto bailout earlier this year, but his retainment of alleged pension fund defrauder Hank Morris has by all accounts killed his shot at the job he wanted when a young Goldman Sachs arbitrageur asked him what he wanted to do when he “grew up” back in the eighties
“How much do you like money?” Rubin asked Rattner, by way of preamble. “Let me tell you how I think about it. I like what I do, and I want to achieve financial security for my family and myself. And then I want to do something more public-minded. I want to be secretary of the Treasury.”
But Rubin got the job first, while Rattner left journalism to become a banker and tried to learn from the cautionary tale of his mentor Felix Rohatyn:
Rohatyn’s sole failure had been in politics. “You know,” Rohatyn once confessed to Rattner, according to Cohan, “I used to think that being a policy guru and saving New York was enough to become Treasury secretary, but I found out that you really have to be in the mix and you really have to raise money. It’s not going to happen for me.”
This turned out to be bad advice, however, as Rattner would learn peddling his private equity fund Quadrangle to investors:
Soliciting pension funds is not the glamorous part of private equity, the kind of banking done on Park Avenue, where Quadrangle’s offices are located. It’s high-end panhandling, and to a downmarket clientele, politicians in questionable suits in Spokane and Wichita. In 2005, Rattner must have held north of a hundred meetings with potential investors. It wasn’t easy to keep his spirits up, but Quadrangle was his brand, his reputation was on the line, and so he put his mind to it. He thought of Schumer bustling through five-a-day fund-raisers with a smile on his face—Rattner was Schumer’s finance director in 1998. The trick, Rattner explained to a friend, is to keep your enthusiasm up, by force of will if need be, and never ask, What the hell am I doing here?
Reducing himself to this highly unglamorous business was, of course, how Rattner derailed his whole career — and perhaps not coincidentally, it’s not the kind of thing we can see Bob Rubin, or Hank Paulson, or John Snow or Tim Geithner taking kindly to.
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