Q&A: Robert Wolf


Robert Wolf, 51, is best known for his role as president and COO of UBS Investment Bank and his close relationship with President Obama, whom Wolf has been advising since before the financial crisis. Wolf left UBS in 2012; now he is launching a firm, 32 Advisors, named after his college football number.

Q: You’ve been advising the president on economics since before he was elected. Do you consider the Democrats more responsible stewards of the economy than Republicans?

Democrats believe that there’s a place for government and government spending, and Republicans are much more for lack of government involvement. But we have seen over the last five years that there is need for government involvement—in the auto sector, the bank sector, the student loan business, Hurricane Sandy.

The president had a lot of support from Wall Street in 2008; in 2012, far less. Was the Street right to view him as hostile?

Obviously, the relationship between K Street and Wall Street over the last four years has had many, many bumps in the road. But the banking industry needed to be regulated. And if you look at the key aspects of the new regulation—a systemic regulator, a resolution authority, a consumer financial protection agency—most people on the banking side would tell you that was smart regulation.

Why did you support new regulation?

Because I was at the Federal Reserve Lehman Weekend [in September ‘08, when Lehman Brothers was collapsing]. And when you’re sitting there realizing that we may be going through the largest bankruptcy in this country, that could have a global contagion effect, you realize that we need to be more prepared.

What can Washington and Wall Street learn from each other?

It’s important that they learn to work together better. In my opinion, you’re going to see the business community and the president aligned much more closely than they were in the past—on immigration reform, education, fiscal responsibility. All of those things align very well with the business community.

Tell me about your new firm.

In the last four years of being active both on Wall Street and K Street, I have seen a lot of gaps in this country and smart people who can help fill those gaps. So we’re going to be offering a stream of economic intelligence to a core group of clients.

Gaps like what?

Prior to 9/11, 30 percent of this country’s GDP was foreign direct investment. Today, because of protectionism, lack of immigration reform and labor arbitrage, it’s 15 percent of GDP. So we’re going to have one stream dealing with foreign direct investment. The second stream would be an export initiative. A third stream, economic intelligence, is run by [former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers] Austan Goolsbee.

You’re hiring Obama administration alumni. Will your firm lobby?

We will do no lobbying. There will be times we will tell our clients, “You need a lobbyist,” and we will introduce them to [Democratic lobbying firm] Heather Podesta and Partners. They’ll be a strategic affiliate.

What will your role be?

Pitching all the client streams, adding streams, doing a lot of client meetings and introductions.

You’ve gone from being the president of UBS to starting your own firm. How does that feel?

I am excited. But it’s also very humbling. The global resources UBS had were amazing, and when you start something on your own, the first few months it’s me, myself and I.

So why do it?

When you have a big job at a big firm, the hardest thing is finding the right work-life balance. As my kids head into high school and college, you just feel like you want to do different things, and going on your own helps you create your own legacy.

Has the president given you any advice?
I think the president is proud that I’m trying to start something of my own.

For more information, contact Robert Wolf at rwolf@32advisors.com.

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