DealBreaker Of the Year Candidate: Henry “Hank” Paulson

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We’re starting off with what might be an obvious choice—Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. Believe it or not, Paulson started the year under fire. While he was still Goldman Sach’s chief executive, a group of Goldman shareholders calling themselves the Free Enterprise Action Fund put forth a shareholder proposal claiming that Paulson was pushing the nefarious tree-hugging agenda of the Nature Conservacy, whose board he chaired, at the expense of shareholder value. Paulson, a Christian Scientist, refused the strong-medicine the FEAF wanted to administer, of course.
You might not think that an avowed environmentalist under fire from a conservative advocacy group would have much pull with the White House. But that’s why you’re not Hank Paulson, and he is. Because the next thing that happened was that Paulson was nominated to be George Bush’s Treasury Secretary. After spending sometime in prayer, consulting with his family and lots and lots of time on the phone, Paulson accepted the nomination and sailed through the Senate confirmation. Government ethical requirement to disgorge his interests in Goldman Sachs only served to make Paulson even wealthier at a time when Goldman Sachs share price was flying high (and perhaps giving him an excuse to liquidate that position before a possible 2007 downturn). Now Paulson is leading the charge on trade policy, particularly with regards to China.
Probably no other figure qualifies as the face of American capitalism, particularly American finance, as Henry Paulson does. And that is why he’s a candidate for DealBreaker of the Year.
Value Added: Paulson is reportedly very well-respected in the White House, and is said to wield considerable power in the administration. Capitol Hill’s anti-trade protectionists and anti-China lobby seem to have retreated in the face of Paulson’s support for free trade. He’s all the stronger for his lack of political or financial motivation—no one on Capitol Hill understands how to deal with someone who isn’t out to win higher office or make a few bucks from the government. Paulson’s the first important economic leader of the twenty-first century.
Risk Factors: Paulson is faced with a perhaps impossible task—making the Bush economic agenda seem credible. He’ll probably be lucky if he even succeeds in giving the impression that the Bush administration has an economic agenda. There’s also the lagging suspicion that Paulson is something of a post-national cosmopolitan—more interested in bird-watching and trading with China than the economic fate of his fellow Americans.
Should Hank Paulson be the DealBreaker of the Year? Well, he’s the first candidate we’ve named so this might be premature. But we invite you to let loose with your inner-most feelings in the comments section below. And if you have other candidates, please feel free to email us at tips@dealbreaker.com. (If you can use the format we’ve laid out above, all the better. If it’s a hassle, we’ll take ‘em as we get ‘em.) If we use your nomination, you’ll get a free copy of Winning: The Answers: Confronting 74 of the Toughest Questions in Business Today.
More on Henry Paulson:
DealBreaker's Paulson Archive [DealBreaker]
WIkipedia Entry [WIdipedia]
Treasury Secretary: Designate Jr. Paulson ‘Likes to Hold Snakes [New York Observer]
Hank Paulson's secret life [Fortune via Wall Street Week]

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