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Hustling to become president. Wolfensohn's networking and power plays to become World Bank president in 1995 are spelled out in today's Sydney Morning Herald. The article describes who Wolfensohn called, who opposed him, and the ultimatum that he laid down in March 1995 demanding that the White House make its decision within a week, or Wolfensohn would withdraw his candidacy.
At the time, Wolfensohn's path to the Bank was blocked by Robert Rubin, Treasury Secretary (who favoured Larry Summers). And by Jan Piercy, the U.S. Executive Director on the Bank's board (and former Wellesley College room mate of Hilary Clinton), who considered Wolfensohn "egocentric" and resented his efforts to bypass the official search process.
In the end Al Gore and his chief of staff saved the day for Wolfensohn. The article describes how Gore received Wolfensohn and led him through a checklist of issues: the environment, the role of women in development, the bank's managerial challenges, and so on. "Wolfensohn had read the literature on the bank; he knew the criticism, and somehow conveyed a sense that he understood everybody's arguments and could embrace the reasonable bits of each of them".
People who have been in meetings with Wolfensohn, as I have, will know exactly what the author is talking about.
The Sydney Morning Herald article draws heavily from the interesting but controversial book by Sebastian Mallaby, The World's Banker.
The Herald comments: "there are no clear rules about how jobs get dished out in Washington. You call someone who owes you one, or someone who would like to be owed one; that someone calls another someone who owes somebody else one; and the calls ripple this way and that way until, if you are successful, they reach the Oval Office".
For Wolfensohn's previous attempt to become Bank president under Jimmy Carter, see our previous post.
To comment, or give your tips on any rippling Washington phone calls you hear about, join the debate on our Forum.
Alex Wilks ~ February 19, 2005
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