The Tired Legacy of Robert RubinS

Robert Rubin, a senior counselor and director at Citigroup who helped steer the megabank into taking on more risk, is quitting amid a firestorm of criticism. Why? Because he's "tired."

The Journal reports:

While Mr. Rubin has defended his performance since joining Citigroup in 1999, insisting that the bank's problems were due to wider turmoil in the financial system, not failures by Citigroup, he is "tired of it," a person familiar with the matter said. Mr. Rubin now wants to focus instead on his non-profit work and other outside interests.

How tiresome it must be to be paid billions to serve as a counselor, above the fray, and then have others blame you when your counsel leads them astray. Citigroup — like much of Wall Street — incurred heavy losses in both issuing subprime mortgages and packaging them up in increasingly complex financial products; its stock has lost 90 percent of its value since 2006, and the government has had to backstop it with $45 billion in bailout money.

As a director, Rubin pushed Citigroup to use its once-expansive balance sheet to play in promising opportunities like the mortgage market; when times were good, he was lauded for his vision. Before joining Citigroup, as Bill Clinton's Secretary of the Treasury, Rubin helped push through the deregulation that made the bank's credit-fueled push into investment banking possible, and developed a reputation as a sound steward of the economy. (Remember when the government ran a surplus?)

All that's gone. So why leave now? It's the wrong moment — too early and too late.

He could have quit sooner, and found some suitably prestigious role in the Obama administration, to which he's already an advisor on economics. But those slots are now filled (mostly by protégés of Rubin.)

And he could have left later, when the scapegoaters had moved on to other targets. He's not following the script which tells embattled executives to hole up and wait for the bad press to subside. By quitting now, as the critics move in, Rubin risks confirming all their arguments.

It's a sad end to a career, likely to be finished in obscurity: Once seen as Citigroup's creator and the economy's savior, Rubin will be remembered as their destroyers.

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