Henry Paulson makes his mark with students during a busy first year

Henry Paulson has worked with more than 1,200 students since he joined the Harris School of Public Policy Studies last summer as a distinguished senior fellow, and he says he relishes that element of his new career.

The former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury has guest-taught classes on the economic crisis, housing policy, and China’s political economy. He has hosted small breakfast groups and “Hank at Harris” events. He has brought students to high-level discussions with World Bank President Robert Zoellick and former Utah governor and ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, Jr., organized by The Paulson Institute.

Along the way, he has had a chance to engage with students from Chicago Harris, the Booth School of Business, the Law School, and the College, among others.

“The future of this country is these students,” said Paulson, who served in President George W. Bush’s cabinet and was Chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs before that. “My objective is to help them learn and to inspire. I want them to take what they learn here and go out and change the world.”

Paulson said the same goals apply to his newly formed Paulson Institute, which he describes as a “think and do tank,” focused on facilitating constructive U.S.-China relations, an area that has long held his interest.

“Henry Paulson was, in many ways, one of the leading foreign contributors in helping China reform its financial system and initiating a strategic economic dialogue between the U.S. and Chinese governments,” said Dali Yang, Professor in Political Science and faculty director of the UChicago Center in Beijing, who has worked closely with Paulson at the University. “As a result, it is a really special experience for our students to have the opportunity to hear him explain his experiences.”

Engaging Students

Paulson has taught numerous classes on campus, including working with Yang’s Political Economy of China course. Students say they are impressed with his willingness to answer any questions and with his passion for U.S.-China relations.

“He clearly wants to get students interested in U.S.-China relations,” said Jamie Huang, a joint MPP/MA student at Chicago Harris and the Center for Middle East Studies. “He stressed the relationship’s importance and the need to build on what we have now. He said people tend to let failures overshadow successes but when it comes to the U.S. and China, we need to focus on the strengths of the relationship and build a bridge from there.”

In his meetings with students, he has fielded tough questions, on topics ranging from investment banking and U.S.-China relations to government regulation and his handling of the financial crisis as Treasury Secretary. The students have gotten frank responses that offer a window into life at the highest level of government.

“When I left office, I thought TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) was very successful,” Paulson told a group of undergraduates last fall in response to a question. “We saved banks from collapse and got money back. However, I later learned that 92 percent of people were against TARP while only 60 percent were against torture. That put things in perspective for me.”

He also has counseled students about the importance in a successful career of lifelong learning, people skills, integrity, empathy, good judgment, a positive attitude and work-life balance.

“I know of no one who has been happy with a great career but a neglected personal life,” said Paulson, who took the 4:42 p.m. train home every day from Goldman Sachs in downtown Chicago while his children were young. “You need to spend as much time planning your private life as your professional one.”

The Paulson Institute

In addition to his engagement with students and faculty on campus, Paulson has launched The Paulson Institute, an independent center located at UChicago, whose mission is to spur creativity and innovation between the United States and China through programs on urban sustainability, cross-border investment, entrepreneurship, and business best practices. The Institute’s programs encourage partnership between Chinese and American businesses, non-governmental organizations, and governments, especially at the state and local level.

“The relationship between the U.S. and China is as important a relationship as any in the world today,” said Paulson, whose Institute has just hired five UChicago students as research associates to do historical case studies on Chinese foreign direct investment in the United States, something the Institute is hoping to help increase. “It is hard to think of a major global issue that if the U.S. and China work together wouldn’t be easier to solve than if not.”

In December, Paulson organized the Institute’s first big event in China, traveling to Beijing with Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and other government and business leaders to interact with their Chinese counterparts on urban sustainability in modern China. Similar events are planned for Chicago in September and in China in December.

“It was an extraordinary opportunity to interact with someone who has played such a significant role in U.S.-China relations,” said Yang, who participated in the event.

As the Institute develops its programing goals, it continues to expand its opportunities for the UChicago student community. In addition to the five new research associates, Paulson and his new executive director, Evan Feigenbaum, twice a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and an Adjunct Senior Fellow for Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations, are launching a fellowship program, selecting graduate students to spend their Summer Quarter engaged in field research in China, writing on topics related to the aims of the Paulson Institute. They are also bringing aboard two summer interns, to be based at the Center in Beijing.

The Institute, which is currently located at Chicago Harris, is slated to move to its permanent home on 5711 S. Woodlawn Ave. late this fall.

Although his schedule of trips, conferences and classes keeps him busy, Paulson said his interactions with students have been energizing.

“This is fun for me,” Paulson said.