Loving Bob Rubin: Clinton’s Grown-Up Keeps His Cool But Verbal Vermeer Worries About Tax Cuts

For former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, life continues to be sweet. He is still basking in the glow of Citigroup’s acquisition of the Mexican bank Banacci, a deal he put together and that was signed off on by Citigroup chairman Sandy Weill. On May 21, he received his honorary degree from Yale (he is also to give the commencement address at Harvard University on June 7), and on Tuesday he dropped by the Rainbow Room to soak up a little bit of love from the American India Foundation.

An organization composed of prominent Indian businessmen from Silicon Valley to Wall Street, it was formed just after this January’s earthquake in the Indian state of Gujarat to funnel contributions back to the devastated area. It was to be the group’s first major fund-raising dinner in New York City (more than $750,000 was raised), and Mr. Rubin would give the keynote address-a global perspective on the international economy.

Introducing Mr. Rubin was the organization’s co-chair, Victor Menezes, chief executive and chairman of Citigroup’s emerging-markets operations. Mr. Menezes did not skimp on the praise. “Listening to Bob speak is like going to a Vermeer exhibit,” he said. And on he went, chronicling the many and now very familiar highlights of Mr. Rubin’s splendid career. “Bob is a wonderful man,” Mr. Menezes concluded.

If there is one thing that Mr. Rubin has mastered in his years as a financial and political demi-god, it is the fine art of looking humble in the face of a somewhat sticky encomium. With his legs politely crossed, he sat with his head tilted down, a slightly embarrassed smile tugging at his lips. Yes, this was a man much accustomed to hearing his praises sung.

Even so, unlike his former boss, he didn’t seem to revel in it. His expression was just a bit pained as his eyes zeroed in on the tips of his shiny shoes. As the intro wound down and the crowd applauded, he took to the podium for a perfectly placed self-deprecating crack.

“Victor mentioned that he worked for a small community bank in Manhattan,” Mr. Rubin said. “Well, if we mess up this Mexican-bank thing, that’s exactly what we will be.” The dinner guests chuckled knowingly.

His speech was, as one would expect, smooth as silk. Some warm words for the American India Foundation’s fund-raising efforts, and then some broader comments on the U.S. economy. Perhaps surprisingly from a man whose Sphinx-like silence was the perfect counterpoint to an era’s giddy exuberance, his mood seemed a touch cranky.

“I think if you look back at our eight good years, you will see that a lot of good things reinforced each other,” Mr. Rubin said. “Now there is the possibility that a lot of bad things may start reinforcing each other.

“As for the tax bill-which, as you know, I’m not a big fan of-it creates a serious threat of a return to budget deficits.” A small jab at the tax-cutting crowd from the old deficit hawk himself. He went on to suggest that the tax-cut package could well extend the current market uncertainties into the coming quarters.

The evening’s events concluded, Mr. Rubin headed for the exit. Amidst the swirl of chatty, well-fed bankers, he stood out: a touch gaunt, over-exercised even, with a smile for each and every one of his well wishers.

For Mr. Rubin, it was just another day at the office.

He Gives Comfort To the Power-Hungry

The search for the center of power on Wall Street ended in a narrow back alley behind the New York Stock Exchange Building at Broad and Wall.

Away from the imposing fa├žades of Federal Hall and the NYSE building, back on an ancient road known as New Street, Anthony Brown holds court, dispensing the fuel that keeps the world’s markets chugging away day after day, come Clinton or Bush, bulls or bears.

Mr. Brown, 31, is slight and low-key. Yet power-hungry traders flock to him, looking for his approval, his assent, his permission to satisfy another type of hunger that lurks deep within: the lunchtime munchies.

Mr. Brown handles the security that examines all food delivered to the New York Stock Exchange building. These days, that’s a particularly daunting task: With the Mideast in flames, anti-globalization protesters on the move, China-U.S. relations cool and Osama Bin-Laden still on the loose, centers of power like the stock exchanges have been on heightened alert.

So Mr. Brown, who works for a private security company, has to examine every soggy lunch bag, every tray, every pizza box entering the NYSE, hunting for guns, bombs and knives. He does this from an armored truck parked outside 4 New Street, running each and every box and bag of food down a conveyer belt through a metal detector.

It’s quite a scene back there: Smocked traders and clerks lean against the cement-brick wall awaiting their lunch deliveries, some perched on one leg smoking, others huddled in close discussion. White-clad restaurant delivery men, on bike and foot, flood the crowded alleyway, passing the waiting crowd to make a beeline for the white armored truck.

Mr. Brown says he’s found several knives in lunchtime parcels over the years, but no bombs. But the precarious state of the world has him always vigilant, he said.

Once Mr. Brown, in his black security uniform, checks and clears each item, the traders can come up and get their packages, then shuffle back inside to shovel in their General Tso’s or wolf down the chicken parm back on the trading floor.

“You eat slow, you lose out,” said one clerk, as he waited for his Mangia subs to pass inspection. “I haven’t been to lunch in 30 years.”

-Beth Satkin