Henry Paulson, a former Goldman Sachs CEO and Treasury secretary, was an immensely worthy contender. He led Goldman, long the whitest of white-shoe Wall Street partnerships, into the modern era as a publicly traded company. As Treasury secretary, he was the Bush administration's point person during the financial crisis of 2008. For that, some consider him a hero, right alongside former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. But critics argue that he (and Bernanke, for that matter) was slow to publicly acknowledge the seriousness of the crisis. Moreover, his tenure at Treasury, while full of tumult and consequence, was a comparatively brief 30 months.
Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase, Charles Schwab, Ned and Abigail Johnson of Fidelity, Laurence Fink of BlackRock and Hugh McColl, the man who broke the barriers to interstate banking and put Charlotte, N.C., on the map as home to more than NASCAR—could easily have been on our final list. As could have Steven Schwartzman of Blackstone and Henry Kravis of KKR, two stunning grandmasters of private equity.
But we deliberately put ourselves into a straitjacket with just 25 names (and could have filled it just with financiers). We knew we would be forced to make hard calls. Ultimately, we decided that along with Bloomberg, Jack Bogle, Carl Icahn and Sandy Weill not only had proved to be financial wizards over the past quarter-century but had most changed Wall Street.
While we're on the subject of financial wizardry, what about Michael Milken? He invented some of the financing tools and many of the tactics that made possible the likes of Schwartzman, Kravis and Icahn. If not for junk bonds, Ted Turner would not have been Ted Turner and Rupert Murdoch would not have been Murdoch. I confess I pushed for Milken until I became a nuisance. I lost. The panel decided that he was basically an '80s dude, his greatest innovation and influence predating CNBC's 1989 launch.
Which leads me back to my original point: With a list like this one, you just can't win. Oh, yeah—I voted against Martha, too, until I voted for her.