K Street abuzz over who will get the $1.8 million Roundtable job

K Street is buzzing about candidates to take the helm of the Financial Services Roundtable, a prestigious and coveted position that could pay upwards of $1.8 million per year.

The rumor mill has been churning with the names of former senators and House members who might be in the running to replace former Rep. Steve Bartlett (R-Texas), who is leaving as the group’s president and CEO after a 12-year tenure.

The job brings the cachet of being Wall Street’s voice in the capital, along with a sizable paycheck — Bartlett earned more than $1.8 million in total compensation in 2010, according to the group’s tax records. 

It also brings its share of challenges, as the CEO must try to build consensus among the Roundtable’s membership, which includes large banks and insurance companies that don’t always see eye to eye on legislation or policy.

The trade group was a major player during the debate over the Dodd-Frank law, which created a new regulatory framework for the financial-services sector after the 2008 economic crisis.

“It may be the highest-profile job open this year, given the squabbles between the administration and the financial-services community,” said Chris Jones, who does corporate headhunting for the influence industry as managing partner of CapitolWorks.

The trade group announced six months ago that Bartlett would leave by the end of the year, and has been conducting a search process since then.

One headhunter said the job is about as good as it gets.

“I think this is the sexiest CEO job going around in the association space,” said Ivan Adler, a principal at the McCormick Group. “If a CEO job for an association can be sexy, this is it.” 

Representatives for the Financial Services Roundtable declined to comment for this piece.

Korn/Ferry International is conducting the search process for the trade group. Nels Olson, an executive with the search firm, also declined to comment.

Observers said the Roundtable job would likely require a well-known Washington name that can bring credibility and gravitas.

“There is still a lot to do and you will need someone with some heft to get it done,” Adler said, referring to the Dodd-Frank law, which is still being implemented. “You can do that for $1.8 million a year. $1.8 million buys a lot of heft.”

Former Sens. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) and Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), as well as former Rep. Ken Bentsen (D-Texas), have been discussed as potential successors to Bartlett, according to lobbyists close to the Financial Services Roundtable.

“It seems like it will be a former member of Congress or someone else who has similar gravitas,” said a lobbyist close to the group. “I think they are looking for a real big name. It has the potential to be the face of the financial-services industry since the banking crisis. This could be the next step for the industry.”

Lincoln praised the Roundtable in a statement to The Hill.

“We find ourselves in a challenging global economic environment and I’m confident that [the Financial Services Roundtable] will help the U.S. financial-services industry continue to lead by example,” said Lincoln, now a special policy adviser at Alston and Bird. “I’m proud to work in a bipartisan and bicameral firm like Alston and Bird with Bob Dole, Earl Pomeroy and Billy Tauzin.”

Gregg, who is a columnist for The Hill, declined to comment. Bentsen declined to comment as well, according to a spokesman for the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA), where the former congressman now works.

“Ken is fully committed to continuing his work at SIFMA,” said Andrew DeSouza, its spokesman. 

A financial-services lobbyist said the trade group needs a versatile chief executive who is fluent in business, policy and politics. 

“Typically, you want someone that can navigate from world to world, from the boardroom to the regulator to the Hill to the camera,” said a financial-services lobbyist. “It’s more important you get a multifaceted person. The skill set is more important than the box-check, meaning that you shouldn’t just look at ex-members.”

The Roundtable has a large and diverse membership that includes banks such as Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase and insurers such as Allstate Corp. and New York Life Insurance Co. Keeping them all on the same page can be difficult.

“They need to tread with caution about who they pick because several constituencies will need to be happy with the pick,” Jones said. “This job is just not about herding cats, but large cats — lions, tigers, panthers — because there are so many conflicting large entities. … More like lion-tamer than cat-herder.”

But once consensus is found, the Roundtable has substantial resources that it can bring to bear. The group has spent $4.5 million on lobbying so far this year, according to disclosure records, and doled out nearly $7.7 million on lobbying in 2011.

It also has a stable of outside lobby firms advocating on its behalf, including Barnett Sivon & Natter, Clark Lytle Geduldig & Cranford, Felicia Smith Law Office and the Smith-Free Group, according to records.

The outcome of the November elections could influence the Roundtable’s decision, particularly if Republicans win the Senate and/or White House. 

“People are holding off until after the election because of budget and politics. Who’s going to be in power? How much do we need to spend on lobbying?” Jones said. 

That said, several lobbyists thought an announcement about Bartlett’s replacement was near, and some suggested it might come before voters head to the polls.

“The word on the street is they are getting close. Now, if close means days or weeks away, I don’t know,” said the financial-services lobbyist.