Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty will take over one of K Street’s most prestigious jobs as CEO of the Financial Services Roundtable.
The group announced Thursday morning that the former GOP candidate for president would replace longtime CEO Steve Bartlett. Pawlenty has stepped down as co-chairman of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign to take the position.
“Tim’s leadership, vision and ability to find common ground make him the right choice to represent the broad membership of the Financial Services Roundtable,” said Tom Wilson, the group’s chairman and CEO of Allstate.
Wilson told reporters Thursday that the group considered more than 100 candidates and interviewed more than 30 of them before picking Pawlenty. The former governor will take over on Nov. 1.
“He is exactly the kind of leader we need to continue to improve our industry’s reputation, advocate firm but fair regulation and help maintain our global leadership of the financial markets,” Wilson said.
But Pawlenty said his acceptance of the Roundtable job meant he had agreed not to consider any positions in a potential Romney administration.
Romney in a statement said he was sad to see Pawlenty leave his campaign.
"He’s brought energy, intelligence and tireless dedication to every enterprise in which he’s ever been engaged, and that certainly includes my presidential campaign," he said. "While I regret he cannot continue as co-chair of my campaign, his new position advancing the integrity of our financial system is vital to the future of our country."
Pawlenty emphasized his working-class roots during his presidential campaign, and said representing Wall Street is another way for him to help the middle class and people who are struggling to find work.
“If you ask what are those things that you can do to make it more likely that jobs are going to grow, the answer is we need more businesses starting and growing,” he said. “These financial institutions are the fuel that goes into that engine.”
The Financial Services Roundtable represents 100 integrated financial services companies providing banking, insurance and investment products and services to the American consumer.
It was a major player during the debate over the financial reform legislation, and its top position was seen as one of the best jobs in Washington, partly because of a salary that could run as high as $1.8 million.
“I think this is the sexiest CEO job going around in the association space,” Ivan Adler, a principal at The McCormick Group, told The Hill earlier this week. “If a CEO job for an association can be sexy, this is it.”
Former Sens. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) and Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), as well as former Rep. Ken Bentsen (D-Texas), had been discussed as potential successors to Bartlett, according to lobbyists close to the Financial Services Roundtable.
Pawlenty takes the lead of the Roundtable at a time when Wall Street’s reputation is at a low point. The financial crisis made big banks a pejorative, and a run of banking scandals, such as multibillion-dollar losses on a complex trade at JPMorgan, have kept the industry on the defensive.
“They very much desire to reestablish a positive reputation,” Pawlenty said. “You don’t just get trust. You earn it.”
He comes to the position as a bit of an outsider, having never worked in the federal government or the financial industry. Bartlett, his predecessor, was a member of the House Banking Committee during his four terms in Congress.
Pawlenty expressed confidence on Thursday that his time in Minnesota politics, which included two terms as governor and a stint as Republican majority leader, will serve him well at the Roundtable.
“While it is Washington ... the basic dynamics fit within the experiences I’ve described,” he said.
He said the biggest hurdle would be getting up to speed on the complex issues facing the financial industry, including many provisions being implemented via the Dodd-Frank financial reform law.
“That’s going to require, at least on some detailed level, some ramp-up time,” he said.
The Roundtable does not favor repealing the Dodd-Frank law, but wants to protect the industry from a slew of rules that they say could hamstring their businesses.
“The regulations need to be firm and fair and not overreach so far that they become counterproductive to responsible investment and the ignition of economic activity,” Pawlenty said.
He joked that another big challenge for him will be “finding an affordable place to live,” as he plans to maintain residences in Washington and his home state of Minnesota — at least until his youngest daughter finishes high school.
—This story was first posted at 7:10 a.m. and has been updated.