You May Not Know Who Jeff Zients Is, But He Might Be Running The Country

You May Not Know Who Jeff Zients Is, But He Might Be Running The Country
Jeff Zients and Joe Biden

Controversy continues to swirl around President Biden as he campaigns to continue his lease on the White House. After last week’s disastrous presidential debate, family and staff rallied around the tottering President. Dr. Jill carefully guides the President on stage, son Hunter attends staff meetings, reports Zero Hedge.

The faces are familiar as we’ve come to know Biden’s closest confidants. Except for one, one figure remains elusive: Biden’s Chief of Staff, Jeff Zients. A man of immense wealth and power, he is virtually invisible, unknown to most Americans. Yet he holds the keys to Biden’s day-to-day meetings and pronouncements. Just who is Jeff Zients? Today, we take an in-depth look at this mercurial figure.

Jeffery Zients was born into an elite class that is more aptly described as America’s Financial Aristocracy. Fabulously wealthy, Zients was born into a well-to-do Jewish family in one of the tonier suburbs of Washington. He attended the finest prep school, St Alban’s, and graduated at the top of his class at Duke University.

In his first position out of college, Zients set the tone for a meteoric rise in the corporate world. Like many at the very top, it wasn’t that Zients was set for a career; rather, he was launched on a series of “positions,” each higher than the last. Like many in this role, Zient would join a company, perform a prescribed role (generally designated by the Corporation’s Board of Directors or CEO), complete his task, and move on to the next assignment at the next company.

Paladin, an old television program, beautifully describes this kind of position as “Have Gun, Will Travel.” These individuals are always wealthy and not in need of their next paycheck. Instead, they come to a corporation needing help, ideally, fix the problem and move on.

However, they must inevitably address the real issue of taking the “heat” away from the Board or CEO. Shareholders (often significant funds) may be unhappy with the company’s recent performance, worried about a legal issue, or concerned that the company is not innovative.

Whatever the perceived weakness or issue, it’s the “Hired Gun’s” task to provide the expertise to solve the problem. In short, the Gun’s fundamental objective is to provide cover for upper management. Hired Gunds may be called to lay off staff, repair legal issues, or organize new objectives. That way, the CEO can announce that I’ve hired a so-and-so consultant to take care of everything.

Does it matter if, at the end of the day, all the problems are not solved? No, just that the CEO and the Board of Directors escape blame and can now enjoy their cocktails at the country club.

With that background, you can better understand Jeff Zients’ record. Right out of college, he begins with one of the best “management/consultant” companies in this rarefied field, Bain and Company. The twenty-something Zients joins Bain around the time that it’s headed by one of the true masters of the trade, Mitt Romney. It was during Romney’s brief stop as CEO before heading to Utah and the U.S. Senate. Son of a Governor, Romney is also a hired gun who has assembled not so much of a resume but a list of “positions.”

It’s the same route that young Zients has embarked upon, taking positions here and there while collecting substantial sums of money and stock along the way.

After leaving Bain, Zients goes on to a group of, you guessed it, consulting firms. The three interlocking firms were DGB Enterprises, The Corporate Executive Board, and The Advisory Board Company. All wonderfully nondescript corporate names, just the kind that the corporate consultant/hired guns like. In 2001, at 35, Zients and his partner took Corporate Executive Board and Advisory Board Company public, making Zients a multimillionaire and listing him as one of Fortune Magazine’s “40 under 40.” The top 40 young executives under 40 years old.

Zients was made; from then on, he could call his shots. He joined the Board of X.M. Satellite Radio and Revolution Health Group, where he founded the investment company Portfolio Logic, LLC. To show that he was traveling in all the right circles, he and his partner Colin Powell (yes, that Collin Powell) tried to buy the Washington Nationals Major League Baseball Team. Unfortunately, he lost the baseball team to a higher bid. And it’s here that his golden touch begins to waver.

Zients Steps Into Government

In his first Government assignment, Zients begins at the very top. Many feel that President Obama created the new position of United States Chief Performance Officer, especially for Zients. In Obama’s words:

His assignment was to help “streamline processes, cut costs, and find best practices throughout” the U.S. government.

The hired Gun was a perfect fit to help Obama with allegations of a wasteful and profligate federal bureaucracy. “Don’t worry, Zients is on the job.” Did Zients solve the problems of government spending? Of course not, but the heat was off Obama.

A year later, Zients moved to the Office of Management and Budget, acting as interim Director for four months, leaving and returning as Director a year later.

After that assignment, the disastrous Obamacare website was sinking. Unable to handle the sheer volume, the public saw healthcare dot gov as everything wrong with government-mandated insurance. By now, Obama must have had Zients on speed dial. Again, he called upon his hired Gun to at least answer the complaints. After answering what must have been some painful press conferences, Zients was rewarded with the cushy position of Director of the National Economic Council (NEC), where he served out the rest of Obama’s term.

Zients had proven to be a loyal representative of Administration policies, which was sure to attract President Biden’s attention in the future.

Just after Zients left Washington, Facebook ran into trouble. A British consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica, had been pilfering the personal data of several million Facebook users. Anxious to enhance his “technology” credentials beyond the “healthcare dot gov” debacle, Zients immediately joined the social media giant’s board.

At nearly the same time, Zients was asked to become the CEO of another investment firm, The Cranemere Group. Another short stop, about a year later, Zients was off campaigning for Joe Biden for President. Again rising to the top, Zients became Co-Chair of the Biden Transition Team. This was his shortest of all assignments, as the COVID-19 Pandemic was underway, and Biden needed someone to handle the vaccine response. Complaints were fling that there weren’t enough “vaxes” to meet the demand. So, like former President Obama, Biden called upon the hired Gun, Zients.

So, as the saying goes, Zients’s pattern continues, stopping at each assignment just long enough to know the way to the executive lounge. Zients has moved from position to position, both inside and outside of government. Along the way, he has become fabulously wealthy, with a host of contacts. Each new assignment is enhanced by Zients’ contacts and his ability to call in past favors.

In January 2023, as the old Chief Of Staff was leaving, it would be no surprise that President Biden would call on Zients, the hired Gun, again. Biden could use someone who knew the bureaucracy and had contacts on Wall Street and Social Media.

When James O’Keeffe broke the story a year ago that Zients was the second most powerful man in Washington and that a Zients subordinate claimed that Biden repeats everything Zients says, it might have seemed an overstatement. But it would come as no surprise to the careful observer. Zients has been doing that for a long time, both inside and outside government.

It’s just that now, after that first Presidential Debate, we all realize just how vital Chief of Staff Jeff Zients really is.

Subscribe to ValueSide

Sign up now to get access to the library of members-only issues.
Jamie Larson