Inside Treasury During the Recession
What's it like being at Treasury during the largest economic downturn since the Great Depression? George Madison tells us about being Treasury GC from '09 to '12.
George joined Sidley Austin's banking, financial services, and corporate governance group as partner last week after his two-year cooling-off period and will split time between DC and NY. At Treasury, he headed a team of 2,000 lawyers and worked on TARP and drafting Dodd-Frank legislation. Before that, George says, "I hadn't really been to the White House except for as a Cub Scout. All of the sudden, you are there every day at meetings with senior Administration officials like the President, in the Situation Room or the Roosevelt Room, discussing matters such as whether to nationalize banks."
The GC experience began when Geithner called George in early 2009 and told him that Sullivan & Cromwell's Rodge Cohen had recommended him. George, who'd never met or worked with Geithner, replied that if Rodge said so, it must be true. He was down in DC the next day for an interview (where he spotted Alan Greenspan leaving the office before him). While his confirmation process stretched for several months, George started working right away as a counselor to Geithner. Here are the two during an awards ceremony in the Cash Room at Treasury.
George lives in Connecticut and would commute in, like many of the political appointees, getting up at 3am on Monday to be at his desk by 7:30am and returning home Friday at 11pm. While Dodd-Frank was going on, work sometimes lasted until 4am. The adrenaline rush came from doing something patriotic you felt proud of. When you look at Dodd-Frank, George says, you have to put yourself back into those gloomy days, when there was the perception of so much broken. Dealing with bitter criticisms about that and TARP was very difficult. "You go in feeling like you're there to do good," he says, and the vitriol of attacks was a rude awakening.
We snapped George taking in the view from Sidley's Seventh Ave office. As a former GC to TIAA-CREF, Treasury, and super regional bank Comerica, taking on that role for some of the country's largest financial institutions after leaving Treasury was on his radar. He eventually chose law firm life (though you may see him in the GC seat again someday), and chose Sidley partly because it's been home to other high-level government officials, including former Treasury GC Bob Kimmitt. "I'm one week here," George says, "and I expect to be here for 10 years."