• U.S.

Moving to the Big Citi

3 minute read
Adam Zagorin

For a guy who chose his words so carefully because they could move markets, Robert Rubin is talking a blue streak. “When I got to the airport to leave Washington, I went through the metal detector. I never had to do that when I was Treasury Secretary. And I felt good about it. Then I went to make a phone call. I put my quarter and my dime in the pay-phone slot. There was nobody around. I was delighted to be on my own again. I felt liberated.”

Liberated takes on a whole new meaning when you can have any job in the money world–and you’re so rich you don’t have to work anyway. Talking over tuna fish and Pellegrino last week, Rubin said he needed a break after 6 1/2 very intense years in the Clinton Administration, during which he emerged as one of the most influential Treasury Secretaries in U.S. history.

But now, after nearly four months off for family time and recreation, Rubin has re-emerged for another high-wattage star turn. Smiling alongside Sanford Weill and John Reed, the co-chairmen of Citigroup, the 61-year-old financier confirmed that he would help them run the nation’s largest financial conglomerate (1998 assets: $669 billion). Rubin’s timing, as usual, is perfect. Just as the former Goldman Sachs investment banker climbs back into the spotlight, Congress is preparing to vote on a historic bill that plays legislative catch-up with Citi’s 1998 merger with Travelers, the insurance outfit that also owns Salomon Smith Barney. Rubin never made financial modernization his priority in government; nevertheless he will now help direct an institution sure to be among the bill’s principal beneficiaries.

Rubin brings to Citi stature that is bound to attract top clients. Known to occasionally stroll around Treasury in stocking feet, Rubin has a low-key informality that could work wonders in Citi’s sharp-elbowed executive suite. In the Clinton Administration, Rubin dominated internal policy debates on matters ranging from estate taxes to relations with China because of his strength as a cautious consensus builder, not in spite of it.

And at Citi, Rubin says he hasn’t the slightest intention of taking charge. “I do not want to be and will not be a CEO,” he insists. No one will formally report to him. His plan: to spend the next few months wandering around with one of his yellow legal pads in hand asking questions of some of the company’s 174,000 employees.

Yet Rubin’s public-sector resume may not be complete. He’s already a leading candidate to replace his friend Alan Greenspan as chairman of the Federal Reserve when Greenspan’s term expires next June. Who knows? Before long, the metal detector could again become a thing of the past.

–By Adam Zagorin

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