The Making of Timothy Geithner

Also see:
Inside Man by Joshua Green
The Atlantic , April 2010

If Geithner were a character in a British period novel, he'd be the diligent son of the head servant, someone whose outstanding qualities are noted by the master and who, when the time comes, is unexpectedly rewarded with passage to university and the world beyond. He makes a deep impression. Almost anyone who has spent time with him can describe his effect on people. A senior Treasury official in the George H. W. Bush administration recounted for me, in vivid detail, 20 years after the fact, a single briefing that Geithner, then still in his 20s, had given him on Japan: "Within the building, Tim was already thought to be a superstar. And in my experience, he was brilliant. Incredibly well prepared, thoughtful. He still talked too fast, even then. But he was so on top of stuff, so impressive professionally, that there was a 'wow' factor in dealing with him. You'd hear how good he was, and then you'd deal with him, and then you'd think, 'Oh my God, the guy really is just better.'" Geithner's career follows a pattern of his being not necessarily the first, or the most obvious, choice for some important job, getting it anyway, and performing so well that he quickly advances, acquiring a patron in the process. He is the quintessential promising young man. And he has many powerful patrons.

Jennie Rothenberg Gritz is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she edits digital features.

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