The US government is tapping the private sector for advice on the auto imbroglio. The US Treasury Department has chosen Steven Rattner, the cofounder of a private equity group, to act as a special advisor on the restructuring of the US auto industry, officials said Monday.
Rattner, who was rumoured to be the administration's top pick for a 'car czar,' will join a cabinet-level task force which includes Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner and Lawrence Summers, economic advisor to President Barack Obama. His official title will be Counselor to the Secretary of the Treasury.
''We are obviously at a critical moment in our nation's history, particularly with regard to our economy, and I am honoured to have this opportunity to serve my country in a meaningful way,'' Rattner wrote in an e-mail message to friends on Monday.
A graduate of Brown University, Rattner started his career as a reporter with The New York Times, first at the Washington bureau, where he became close friends with Times' owner-family member Arthur Sulzberger, who also was at the time working as a reporter; and then at the London bureau.
Subsequently, Rattner quit journalism and joined Morgan Stanley, where he founded its Communications Group. In 1989 he joined Lazard as a General Partner; he founded their Media and Communications Group and became deputy chairman and deputy CEO before leaving to found Quadrangle in 2000.
Quadrangle's investments include Metro Goldwyn Mayer, the movie studio, and Maxim magazine. From Quadrangle's offices in the Seagram Building in Midtown Manhattan, Rattner has courted the city's power players, often over lunch at the Four Seasons restaurant downstairs.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose blind trust is managed by Quadrangle, said in a statement on Monday: ''Steve has a unique understanding of the incredibly complex relationships between government and markets. I congratulate President Obama for making a great choice.''
Rattner has long harboured political ambitions. A longtime Democratic contributor, he backed Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign, and some speculated that he sought the treasury secretary's post in a Clinton administration. His wife, Maureen White, was Clinton's finance co-chairwoman.
The task force that Rattner is joining is charged with examining the restructuring plans of General Motors and Chrysler, which last week asked for $21.6 billion in additional loans after having been awarded $17.4 billion in emergency loans in December. Agreement on the final plan will serve as a basis for the Treasury's decision to call in or extend the loans.
That decision is expected to come by the end of March.