Corzine's ambition led to MF Global demise: Flowers

Flowers on MF Global & Corzine
Flowers on MF Global & Corzine

Jon Corzine's ambition exceeded what the now-defunct MF Global brokerage could handle, private equity investor J. Christopher Flowers said Tuesday.

"[Corzine] was trying to drive a Volkswagen at 150 miles per hour. And it was just the wrong answer," said the managing director and CEO of J.C. Flowers & Co., which invests in the global financial services industry.

In a wide-ranging interview on CNBC's "Squawk Box," Flowers said he still considers the former senator and New Jersey governor a friend. He and Corzine worked at Goldman Sachs and rose to become stars at the investment bank before branching out. Flowers was instrumental in getting Corzine in 2010 to run MF Global.

But 18 months later, authorities said, about $1.6 billion went missing from customer accounts after the firm improperly used them to try to plug liquidity gaps as it teetered on bankruptcy. Customers eventually received full recovery, though creditors say they have not.

Corzine could not immediately be located for comment.

Power player in 2008 financial crisis

Flowers on state of US economy
Flowers on state of US economy

On other matters, Flowers was a player at many crucial moments during the 2008 financial meltdown.

"Those were tough times in 2008 and 2009 in financial services, and one of our funds did take quite a beating," Flowers said. "Our market has come back a lot in the last few years."

"We made it a long ways back toward even … a lot more than zero," he added—crediting a comeback in Japan, where he had made a big splash in 2000 with an investment in what became Shinsei Bank.

Key role in BofA-Merrill Lynch deal

Flowers on BAC bailout
Flowers on BAC bailout

Flowers also played a key role in advising Bank of America in the fall of 2008, when it agreed to buy troubled Merrill Lynch for $50 billion.

But by the time the deal closed in January 2009, Merrill had taken a turn for the worse, racking up $15 billion in losses.

Flowers said the Merrill losses were not apparent when the deal was struck. "I think they developed later." Despite that, he said it's been a "terrific deal" for BofA. "I think now what I thought then—that it made a lot of strategic sense. And it's proved that way."

Flowers said he doesn't know whether BofA could have gotten a better deal if it waited for Merrill to go into bankruptcy.

"It's a different deal and maybe not a better deal," he said. "You get a whole functioning Merrill Lynch that really snapped back fast and has added a lot to BofA."

By CNBC's Matthew J. Belvedere. Reuters contributed to this report.