When Ian Samuels joined the U.S. Treasury Department’s Financial Crisis Response Team, he took a job that was truly uncharted territory: helping to save the hobbled U.S. economy.
Samuels arrived at Treasury in 2009, at the depth of the crisis, and ended up staying four years. He worked on a team charged with helping to design and implement the financial stability plan assembled by then-Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, the White House, Federal Reserve and others, to combat the financial crisis. “The original plan announced in February was as much a roadmap for further action as it was a detailed guide, so the team I was on was there to help build that out,” says Samuels.
The Wharton alum had spent two years in Blackstone’s mergers and acquisitions group, and arrived at Treasury, in his early 20s, with a relatively slender resume. But by 2011, he had caught the attention of Forbes as one of the “30 under-30-year-olds who are making their mark in the world of law and policy.”
Among the initiatives he worked on was recovering the TARP investments made to large financial institutions and programs that helped improve access to credit for small businesses. He also helped with evaluating potential threats to the financial system, and then determining whether a policy response was warranted.
Beyond the immediate crisis, Samuels was involved in creating mechanisms aimed at preventing a recurrence. “We were thinking about how to make sure there is an ongoing function that can advise future administrations, future Treasury Secretaries, on key developments in financial markets to be there to respond to crises as they emerge. So we created the Capital Markets Team of folks with experience in the financial markets to work on financial reform, housing finance reform, and provide an ongoing source of advice to federal officials about a wide variety of financially related challenges.”
Samuels also was involved in recruiting talented young people in the financial services sector to the federal government. “A lot of people, including Wharton students and alumni, start out sort of skeptical. But when I’ve been able to tell them the experience I’ve had—the energy, the vibrancy and the importance of the task the government is focused on, many of them we were recruiting ultimately ended up coming down and working in Treasury as well.”
Looking back, there is one aspect of his work that stands out to him—an area that earned Samuels the moniker of “policy entrepreneur.” The federal government’s financial exposure has increased substantially in recent years to help support homeowners, small businesses and the overall economy. “Such growth requires an important effort to make sure government is doing everything within its power to make those loans and manage them in the most effective way possible. And we’re doing this along side really important improvements in private-sector risk-management practices that the government is also working to learn from and implement.”
For his own part, Samuels during his time in D.C. acquired a “large number of bright, motivated people who have become mentors and friends to me.” Initially, working in government was culture shock to him. “I showed up for my first day of work, and the Secret Service guy told me, ‘You’re not in the system, go away.’” And of course, on top of the shifting demands of the financial crisis itself, there were the pressures of the highly charged political environment. Still, he was surprised by how much idealism could be found tucked away in the corridors of government. “I was impressed with the extent to which we were always directed to figure out what the best policy was as opposed to what the best politics were,” Samuels said. “You are still faced with a very wide variety of competing objectives, and I think I came to appreciate the fact that you are making decisions on such a scale, and that there are so many stakeholders involved, that you need to be very thoughtful, very aware of all the various inputs, and all the impacts that a particular policy could have.”
Plus, he figured out a solution to his little barrier-to-entry problem with the Secret Service that first day at work. “Eventually I was able to pick up the phone and call someone who knew I was supposed to be there.”
University of Pennsylvania - Wharton - 2007
- Bachelor of Science in Economics
- Major(s): Finance