WASHINGTON – Goldman Sachs chief Henry M. Paulson, President Bush's choice to be Treasury secretary, is a 32-year Wall Street veteran who is as at ease in the pressure-cooker world of finance as he is in pursuing his passions for fishing and bird watching.
Paulson, 60, has served as the chairman and chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs, a premiere Wall Street firm, since May 1999. He started out in the company's Chicago office in 1974 and rose through the ranks.
Although most of his career has been on Wall Street, Paulson did short stints in Washington during the Nixon administration in the 1970s, where he worked at the Pentagon and the White House.
Since last year, he has chaired the Financial Services Forum, a group of executives working for an open and sound global financial services marketplace.
The Senate Finance Committee will conduct his confirmation hearings and although Paulson has been a staunch Republican supporter, he's already drawn backing from powerful Democrats on the committee.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said in a statement that he had spoken with Paulson after the nomination was announced and pledged his support.
"His experience, intelligence, and deep understanding of national and global economic issues make him the best pick America could have hoped for to deal with the difficult economic problems the country faces," Schumer said.
Brian Gardner, Washington research analyst with New York-based Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. Brokerage, said he believed Paulson could be especially helpful in America's dealings with China, where a massive trade deficit has led to calls for quotas and other restrictions.
"The phrase that continues to come up about him is 'China bull,' and I think he has a great understanding of China," Gardner said. He added that he thought Paulson was "less likely to beat China over the head, more likely to work behind the scenes" to affect change.
Although Paulson is known as one not to crave the spotlight, he isn't afraid to be in its glare.
In the wake of the corporate accounting scandals that rocked Wall Street and badly rattled stocks, Paulson gave a bold speech before the National Press Club in Washington that called for the revamping of the governance and auditing processes at U.S. corporations.
For all of the unusually heavy business acumen, Paulson defies typecasting.
At Dartmouth College, he was an all-Ivy League football lineman and graduated with a bachelor's degree in English. He went on to earn an MBA at Harvard University.
A millionaire many times over, Paulson enjoys fly fishing and bird watching — often solitary pursuits. He is chairman of the Nature Conservancy and the chairman emeritus of the Peregrine Fund. He also a member of the board of directors for the nonprofit group Catalyst that is devoted to promoting career advancement and opportunities for women in the workplace.
Paulson, who met with Bush earlier this month, will replace John Snow, who took the Treasury helm in February 2003.
If confirmed by the Senate, Paulson would be the president's third treasury secretary and would serve as the main salesmen for the White House's economic policies.
At the Rose Garden ceremony Tuesday, where Bush announced his choice, the Goldman Sachs chief stood with his hands in his pockets, squinting in the sunshine.
Paulson, clad in a crisp dark suit, gripped both sides of the podium as he talked about his more than three decades in finance and the role of the United States in the global economy.
"It is truly a marvel," he said of the U.S. economy. "But we cannot take it for granted. We must take steps to maintain our competitive edge in the world."
Word of Paulson's nomination was met with early applause from the financial and business community.
"Hank Paulson's firsthand experience in running a business and his understanding of financial markets give him the right credentials for helping to shape fiscal policy with finance ministers from around the world," said Hank McKinnell, chairman of the Business Roundtable and chief of Pfizer Inc.
Marc Lackritz, president of the Securities Industry Association, noted that Paulson is the latest of a number of Goldman Sachs executives who have moved into public service.
Robert Rubin, one of Paulson's predecessors, served as Treasury secretary in the Clinton administration; Jon Corzine, who at one time had been co-CEO of Goldman Sachs with Paulson, served as a U.S. senator from New Jersey and is now governor of that state.
Lackritz called Paulson "an ideal candidate" for the Treasury post, saying that his knowledge of the people and issues globally will be helpful in developing U.S. policies for the international arena.
In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire and former businessman himself, said Paulson called him Wednesday morning to tell him he was taking the job. Bloomberg described him as a friend and a good corporate citizen.
"Whenever I've had to raise money for something that this city needs, the first call has always been to Hank and he's always come through," Bloomberg said. "He almost gives you his checkbook and says, 'Write what you want.' — Doesn't quite do that, but he's been there every time.
"This country is better having Hank Paulson. He's going to be a spectacular Secretary of the Treasury."