Robert E. Rubin is returning to Wall Street.
More than a year after he left Citigroup amid a firestorm of criticism over his role as a senior adviser to what was then the world’s biggest bank, Mr. Rubin is planning to join a much smaller firm, the boutique investment bank Centerview Partners. Mr. Rubin had been seen at several meetings with Centerview clients in recent weeks, which had led to whispers about his next move. Centerview, founded in 2006, is planning to announce his appointment within the firm on Thursday.
Mr. Rubin, 71, a Treasury secretary under President Clinton and a longtime party elder among Democrats, is joining a firm with Democratic ties. Blair W. Effron, a co-founder of Centerview and a former banker at UBS, has become a strong force in Democratic political circles in Manhattan. One of the firm’s other founders is Robert A. Pruzan, a protégé of Bruce Wasserstein.
Mr. Rubin is expected to bring a higher profile to the firm, acting as its éminence grise and helping advise clients.
“Having Bob as part of the fabric of the firm as we think through strategic issues is just a big benefit for us,” Mr. Effron said.
Mr. Rubin started on the arbitrage desk at Goldman Sachs in 1966 and went on to become the firm’s co-chairman. After running the Treasury, he returned to Wall Street, joining Citigroup. But as the financial crisis grew, Mr. Rubin came under fire for his role as chairman of the company’s executive committee, where he led a board that blessed a strategy of taking on greater risks. The bank suffered billions of dollars in losses and received a $45 billion government rescue.
Mr. Rubin has since suggested he did not have nearly as much influence at Citigroup as the public might have thought. But that has not stopped some critics from blaming him. “You were either pulling the levers or asleep at the switch,” Philip N. Angelides, the chairman of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, told Mr. Rubin during a hearing in April.
That might help explain why Mr. Rubin said he was not looking to work again on Wall Street after Citigroup.
“When I left Citi in January, I had a whole bunch of people come to talk to me about a couple of different things,” he said in an interview. “I was not planning to take on another major commitment.”
Mr. Rubin said he “came over one day and sat in on a meeting” at Centerview and “it seemed like it would be very interesting to me.”
“I could help an extremely successful but younger firm grow, and I could work with clients.”
Despite the criticism of his tenure at Citigroup , some Wall Street denizens said Mr. Rubin was still seen as a powerful adviser who would attract Fortune 500 clients.
“He has some critics, but he still has a lot of credibility in the business world,” said Richard I. Beattie, chairman of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett. “He’s a got a unique combination of experiences.”
Before hiring Mr. Rubin, Centerview sought the views of some clients.
“I went to one of my big clients who has very different political views than Bob does and he said, ‘Look, I think it would be fascinating to talk to him. I don’t agree with what he says, but I certainly want to hear his point of view,’ ” Mr. Pruzan said.
David M. Cote, the chief executive of Honeywell and a Centerview client, said he was interested in Mr. Rubin’s counsel. “Bob Rubin offers a sophisticated perspective on the macroeconomic issues affecting companies, industries and markets globally and has been at the nexus of the public and private sectors,” he said.
Centerview has become a fast-rising star in advisory work on mergers and acquisitions and has worked on some of the most prominent deals in recent years. The firm advised Kraft on its $21.6 billion acquisition of Cadbury of Britain, Pepsi on its $21 billion acquisition of its two independent bottlers and the News Corporation on its $5.6 billion acquisition of Dow Jones.
The firm has added some other well-known talent to its executive ranks, including James M. Kilts, a former chief executive of Gillette and Nabisco and a former board member of The New York Times Company; Stephen S. Crawford, a former co-president of Morgan Stanley; and Adam D. Chinn, a former partner at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz.
Mr. Rubin continues to work as co-chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations, the head of the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution and as a board member of Harvard University. He will devote about a quarter of his time to Centerview and keep his main business office there.
“If you’re going to be involved in policy issues, you have to be very current on what’s going on the economy,” Mr. Rubin said. “Obviously, Centerview provides a terrific window. It’s a symbiotic relationship and so it seemed to make sense.”