“When I ran for senator in 2000, being a Wall Street banker from Goldman Sachs was a major plus in your résumé,” he said. “People have seen excesses. There’s a different attitude about it.”
Still, Mr. Corzine has always shown the ability to bounce back from setbacks, whether it was being forced out as chief executive of Goldman a decade ago, or recovering from a near-fatal car accident as governor in 2007.
“He was tenacious,” said Jack Mazzotti, a friend of Mr. Corzine since their days in high school in rural Taylorville, Ill., about a four-hour drive south of Chicago. “He set out early on to make his mark and nothing was going to stop him.”
Second acts may be common enough on Wall Street, but this would be a much tougher third act, especially given the fierce competition in MF Global’s sector, where commissions have been whittled down and small companies have to fight for each transaction. As Mr. Corzine puts it, “We’re not too big to fail.”
At an age when contemporaries and rivals like Henry M. Paulson Jr., who succeeded Mr. Corzine at Goldman and went on to become the Treasury secretary, are writing memoirs, Mr. Corzine is aiming for a shot at redemption. He is getting his hands dirty at a firm full of rough-edged traders, rather than the Ivy League types who populate Goldman.
What is more, he is not the only former Wall Street chief to return with the goal of turning around a much-smaller company. John A. Thain, the former Goldman Sachs executive who ran the New York Stock Exchange and, less successfully, Merrill Lynch, is now steering CIT after its bankruptcy filing last fall.
Old Wall Streeters do not have a habit of fading away. There is always one more trade, especially when the last two or three have not worked out. And Mr. Corzine hardly wants to go out on a low note, not when regulation is about to transform the securities industry and he has enough contacts in Washington to help shape the process.
Mr. Corzine, who worked his way up from trading government bonds at Goldman, hardly needs the money. But he said his love of markets drew him back to his roots, as well as the opportunity to build up a firm that has a strong presence in futures and options trading but is still trying to expand into other areas, like bonds, and has not fully overcome a 2008 trading scandal.
“I wouldn’t have come here if I thought MF Global were going to be the same company in five or 10 years,” he said. “We have to find other ways of building revenue.”
His horizons will not be limited to MF Global, however. He plans to teach a class on public policy at Princeton this fall and now also serves as a partner at J. C. Flowers & Company, the private equity firm founded by his friend J. Christopher Flowers. J. C. Flowers owns a 10 percent stake in MF Global.
Seven months after Mr. Corzine lost a bid for a second term as governor, it is clear that the rejection at the polls still smarts. “It’s painful to lose, and anybody who tells you that it isn’t is disconnected from reality,” he said. “It impacts you personally and how you feel about yourself for a while. And it always sets up 20/20 hindsight.”
Unlike his loss in the election, Mr. Corzine never saw his ouster from Goldman coming. Power at Goldman has swung back and forth between investment bankers and traders for decades, and in 1999 Mr. Corzine lost out to the bankers, including Mr. Paulson, who was later the Treasury secretary under President George W. Bush.