On Feb. 1, Henry Paulson, the former US Treasury Secretary and CEO of Goldman Sachs, spoke to students at the Gleacher Center about his long career, both in the public and private sector, and answered questions pre-submitted by audience members. Deputy Dean of the Full-Time Program Stacey Kole introduced the 74th Treasury Secretary, who spent 32 years at Goldman Sachs and now runs the Paulson Institute at the University of Chicago.
Secretary Paulson addressed students for about 30 minutes before turning the microphone over to the audience. He spoke about his life and career, from his upbringing on a small farm in rural Illinois and ambition to become a forest ranger, to his service as a member of the Navy ROTC at Harvard Business School and subsequent work with the Defense Department. Secretary Paulson authored a report for top Pentagon brass during the height of the Vietnam War on why ROTC buildings were being burnt down on Ivy League campuses, but claims his real intention behind pushing for this assignment was to continue courting his future wife, Wendy, who was living in DC at the time.
After a brief stint as a Treasury Department liaison for the White House, where Secretary Paulson said he got his best exposure to date of investment bankers, he joined Goldman Sachs in the Chicago office. Part of his reason for choosing Goldman Sachs was the firm's promise that he would never have to move to New York. He agreed to stay when they gave him the responsibility for building firm business in China.
Before turning to the audience, Secretary Paulson spoke of how President Bush asked him to leave and head the Treasury Department three times unsuccessfully before he was convinced to leave Goldman Sachs. Ultimately, he claims, his fear of being unsuccessful during one of the most trying times any Treasury Secretary could be thrown into was trumped by his feeling of duty to answer the call of the President, and he accepted the position.
Preselected audience members were then able to address the Secretary with questions submitted online prior to the event. When asked about the difficulty of working in the private sector versus public, he responded that the "skill sets that it takes to be successful are the same," although public sector jobs are more difficult. One of Secretary Paulson's most controversial comments came when he was asked about the current disdain with which the financial services industry is looked upon by many in the broader public. Despite his sentiment that he is "very saddened by the lack of esteem the financial industry enjoys today," he claimed that all financial crises ultimately go back to flawed government policy.
Secretary Paulson's latest venture, the Paulson Institute at the University of Chicago, is a "Think and Do Tank" established in 2011 that is attempting to tackle some of the largest economic issues facing the world over the next century, including sustainable urbanization in China.
The Booth Executives-in-Residence program was founded in 2009 as a way for distinguished professionals in a variety of fields to share their experiences with students in an intimate setting. The next program will be held on March 1, and features a group of alumni from the technology and venture capital industries.