17th Feb 2012

Jacob Lew: Obama's new Chief of Staff

US President Barack Obama announced last month that Jacob Lew would replace William M. Daley as White House Chief of Staff. Lew is a Harvard graduate from New York who has extensive experience running large institutions in banking, government and academia.  He worked at Citigroup from 2006-2009, serving for a year as COO of Citi Alternative Investments, which at the time was a $54 billion proprietary trading, hedge fund and private equity unit. Having also had a long career as a public servant he is well-known on Capitol Hill, and both Democrats and Republicans have said respectful things about him in the press.

His reputation and network of contacts will be essential to him in dealing with the difficulties he will face in what promises to be a tough year. He is the third Chief of Staff Obama has hired since taking office. The fact that Lew’s predecessor, Daley, held the post for only a year is perhaps an indication of the difficulty of being White House Chief of Staff at a time when the US has crawled out of a financial crisis and into a bitterly divided political climate.

According to Bloomberg, former Clinton budget director Alice Riflin called Lew “a very skilled negotiator. He’s quiet,” she said. “He doesn’t throw his weight around, but he gets the job done.”

Lew will need to bring all his skills to bear in his time as chief, and with such a high rate of turnover in the post he will certainly want to make his mark in the shortest possible space of time. He will start with the end in mind, gearing towards an inevitable confrontation with Republicans in Congress as Obama begins his reelection campaign.

Having worked for two years as deputy for Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Lew is an insider with knowledge of the workings of upper-echelon government, but as a first-time Chief of Staff he will nevertheless face a learning curve in the first 100 days. As with being a CEO, there is no way to learn the job except to learn on the job, and closing this knowledge-gap is a task that must be nailed earlier rather than later for obvious reasons.

These are some of the immediate challenges that must be faced by anyone promoted to a high executive position, and form the groundwork on which the First 100 Days Plan is built. We will be watching Lew’s progress with great interest and we will return to him in a later post to discuss his achievements by the milestone reviews of 30 days, 60 days and 100 days.

Hilda Goold

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