The next finance minister is ready to make a remarkable debut. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, Federal Reserve Board member Lael Brainard and former Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen are the presumed top candidates to take office under the proposed administration of President-elect Joe Biden. Should one of them be appointed head of the Treasury Department, each of them would be the first woman in the history of the U.S. to assume this role.
The three candidates shortlisted to succeed the current Secretary of the Treasury, Steve Mnukhin, would also be one of the few who would be appointed to this office without having previously built a career in Wall Street banking. Prior to his appointment under President Donald Trump in 2017, Mnukhin had a long career in investment banking, including a senior position at Goldman Sachs and others with several hedge funds.
Although a handful of former Treasury Secretaries did not take up their positions in Washington after initially pursuing a career on Wall Street, most of the Treasury Secretaries appointed over the past three decades have taken up their positions in Washington.
Nicholas Brady, a former chairman of the prominent New York investment banking firm Dillon, Read & Co., was appointed to that position in 1988, toward the end of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. During George H. W. Bush’s tenure at the White House, he continued as Secretary of the Treasury until January 1993.
Lloyd Bentsen, a former congressman and U.S. Air Force pilot, became Brady’s successor after Bill Clinton’s inauguration that year and held that position until December 1994. In addition to his military service and previous government offices, Bentsen made his career as a businessman in Houston. Robert Rubin, a former executive officer of Goldman Sachs, replaced Bentsen and remained Secretary of the Treasury until 1999.
Those appointed to this position over the next ten years came primarily from financial institutions outside of investment banking and private equity.
Lawrence Summers served as Secretary of the Treasury in the last year of Clinton’s presidency, having previously held fewer senior positions within the federal department. Previously, Summers was chief economist at the World Bank, a Washington, D.C. based financial institution that provides international loans to governments seeking to promote development.
The first two Secretaries of the Treasury appointed under George W. Bush – Paul O’Neill and John Snow – assumed this position after a distinguished career in business. O’Neill was previously CEO of the Pittsburgh-based industrial group Alcoa, while Snow served as President and CEO of CSX Corporation, the holding company of a major railroad company. Snow’s most recent appointment to the Treasury Department came in 2006, when former Goldman Sachs banker Henry Paulson assumed the role.
Timothy Geithner and Jacob Lew served as Treasury Secretaries during Barack Obama’s eight years in the White House. Geithner took on this role with a prestigious background in finance, having served as President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York from 2003 until his appointment as Secretary of the Treasury in 2009. Many mistakenly assumed that Geithner built his career on Wall Street before joining the Obama administration.
Lew, a former Chief Operating Officer at Citigroup, served as Secretary of the Treasury after Geithner and headed the department until Trump took office. Prior to that, he held a number of positions within the White House, including chief of staff and previously director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) during the Bill Clinton presidency.