'A Powerful Team'

Longtime friend Rubin stands quietly behind Summers

It is no secret that Robert E. Rubin ’60 and University President Lawrence H. Summers share a special relationship that extends from the White House to Mass. Hall.

The two men worked together closely as top economic advisers to former President Clinton, becoming one of the most powerful teams in Washington. And when Rubin left his post as U.S. treasury secretary, he worked to secure Summers’ place as his successor.

Although their Washington relationship came to a close in the late 1990s, Summers and Rubin are now colleagues again on the Harvard Corporation—the University’s top governing body.

Two years after leaving the Treasury, Rubin played an instrumental role in Summers’ ascension to the Harvard presidency. A year into Summers’ tenure, Rubin was selected for a spot on the Corporation. The successor to a Corporation member is selected by the other six members, including the president, who has historically exerted substantial influence on the pick.

In the wake of the controversy surrounding Summers’ January remarks on women in science, Rubin—who could not be reached for this story—has made few public statements about the president, although he expressed his support for Summers shortly after the comments were made public.

“I think he is an outstanding president and he has a chance to be one of Harvard’s greatest presidents,” Rubin told the New York Times in late January, in an article that also cites him as being unaware of faculty discontent with Summers’ leadership style.

The rest of the members of the Corporation, aside from Summers himself, have remained similarly silent.

But sources close to the two men say that Rubin’s reticence is anything but unusual.

“Bob Rubin is the master of the unspoken word,” says David J. Rothkopf, who served as deputy undersecretary of commerce for international trade policy in the Clinton administration.

“Rubin’s a quiet guy who’s extremely good at letting his silence speak volumes,” Rothkopf adds. “And that silence allows Rubin to work behind the scenes [and probably] to do what he feels is the most productive way to produce the best outcome for Harvard.”

Kennedy School of Government Professor of Public Service David R. Gergen, who served as a counselor to Clinton, affirms that Summers and Rubin have remained close since January.

“Bob Rubin was one of the primary people he reached out to for assistance during the storm,” says Gergen, who has advised three other former presidents besides Clinton.

Gergen adds that Rubin still wholeheartedly supports Summers even though he has said little publicly.

“I was in some conversations with Bob and Larry during the height of the storm, [and] I saw no change in the dynamic from what I remember in Washington,” Gergen says. “Bob is very sympathetic and has enormous confidence in his leadership as president of the University.”


In Washington and on Wall Street, Rubin gained a reputation for coolness under pressure and seemingly unshakable confidence, yet also a striking sense of humility.