Imagine for a moment that you are Timothy Geithner, the Treasury Secretary appointed by President Obama. You are 51-years-old and you have just spent four years as a punching bag for congressional Republicans. What’s next? The answer is obviously important to Geithner, his wife, and their two children, but it is also surprisingly important to the rest of us.
What makes it important is Geithner’s age. He could easily have 20 more years of working ahead of him, maybe more. Anyone in his position would long ago have begun thinking about the “what next” question.
Like former President Bill Clinton and, in 2017, President Obama, what might once have been viewed as the culmination of a career has turned in to a stepping-stone. How is the retiring secretary of the treasury or president of the United States to think about his or her next job?
Geithner could look to Alexander Hamilton, America’s first treasury secretary, for ideas, but returning to New York to practice law before rowing across the Hudson River to be shot in Weehawken seems uninspiring.
He could look to fellow cabinet officers.
At age 74, it looks as if serving as secretary of defense will be the last stop for Leon Panetta and that he will be headed home, perhaps by way of the New York publishing houses and one of the high-end speakers bureaus.
Those are good guesses for Geithner too. It is hard to imagine less than a fat seven-figure advance for a book about navigating the country through the financial crisis and speaking fees in the tens to hundreds of thousand-dollar range. Given his position, he almost has to write the book if only to defend against the others who will tell their side. The speeches – especially to dodgy overseas audiences – are sometimes embarrassing but it’s payback time.
But that still leaves the real job – the nine to five thing. Wall Street seemed obvious to several who work there. All dove for the cover of anonymity in trade for their answers.
Hedge fund or investment bank? Investment bank definitely because of the door opening possibilities.
Offense (new business) or defense (keep out of trouble)? Offense is the opportunity but some defense if it is needed.
Front runners? Goldman Sachs or Citibank. JP Morgan less likely and Morgan Stanley a long shot.
These are the answers to why it is important to him, but why is it important to us?
In a little noticed step in Geithner’s career, he served as the Treasury attaché in Tokyo. (Disclosure: we knew each other slightly then.) There he learned about one of Japan’s most unfortunate practices: “amakudari” or descent from heaven. When we were there, senior Japanese public officials retired at age 55 to cushy jobs in the firms they had regulated before they left. Might the prospect of future employment have impacted their regulatory decision-making?
Those holding senior government positions in the United States now seem younger and younger. Life expectancies are longer and longer. We could all get to know a good deal more about “amakudari.” Unless, of course, you’d like to be Japan.