As president, Theodore Roosevelt was fond of the African proverb that advised leaders to “speak softly and carry a big stick,” particularly for foreign policy.
His great-grandson, Theodore Roosevelt IV, a longtime environmentalist and banker at Barclays Capital, uses the same approach to deal-making.
Massachusetts utilities regulators recently approved a proposal by National Grid to use energy from a proposed Cape Wind offshore wind farm, a cluster of 130 wind turbines that will sit in Nantucket Sound, where well-heeled and preppy American leaders and executives have sailed, recreationally, for decades.
Mr. Roosevelt, 68, is one of that group. He has a country home on Martha’s Vineyard, on the north shore of Chappaquiddick, where he still dives for scallops. When Cape Wind’s giant white windmills go up, he will be able to see them.
It would seem to go against his self-interest, but that appears to depend on how you would define the terms. For Mr. Roosevelt, a conservationist who has gone listening for bird calls in Central Park, the long-term environmental benefits were more important than the view. And, as for his neighbors on the Cape, he adds, “I’m fully convinced it’s not going to have an adverse impact on home values.”
The decision, one of 17 regulatory approvals so far, was a coup for Cape Wind’s supporters – including Mr. Roosevelt – after nine years of lawsuits, debates and strong opposition from a vocal and well-financed group of prominent businessmen and fellow Martha’s Vineyard residents, including the billionaire Oxbow Group founder, William Koch, and a former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney.
Opponents in the bitter battle still plan to fight it to Massachusetts’s top court. Audra Parker, chief executive of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, has never met Mr. Roosevelt but said that he had a financial interest in seeing it through, since his firm, Barclays, had been tapped to provide the financing.
Still, his support of Cape Wind preceded his advisory work. The chief executive of Cape Wind Associates, James Gordon, met Mr. Roosevelt as part of a setup on a raucous Boston conservative radio show in 2003. The radio host had expected Mr. Roosevelt, as a resident of Martha’s Vineyard, to say he opposed the project. Instead, he said he was all for it, and Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. Gordon got along famously.
A year later, Mr. Gordon approached Mr. Roosevelt, then at Lehman Brothers, to help provide financing for Cape Wind, anticipated at $1.3 billion. Several other banks pitched for the deal, but Mr. Gordon chose Lehman Brothers in large part because of Mr. Roosevelt.
“The fact that he was really trying to find solutions to environmental and climatic challenges made us simpatico,” Mr. Gordon said.
There was another benefit: Mr. Roosevelt’s conservationist credentials and his advice on how to approach the privileged community on the Cape were a big boon to the struggling project. “Ted’s reputation as an environmentalist precedes him,” Mr. Gordon said. “For him to embrace the Cape Wind project added to its stature.”
Mr. Roosevelt, who is chairman of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, is seeking to burnish his conservationist bona fides by combining his work as an investment banker with deals in clean technology.
He is one of the senior sponsors of Barclays’ year-old clean-tech initiative, an effort that grew out of Lehman Brothers’ alternative energy group and pulled together bankers from all over the firm to advise companies looking to finance, sell or buy clean technologies including wind, water and solar.
It helps, perhaps, that Mr. Roosevelt’s polite and relaxed personal manner is at odds with a last name that could have the power to intimidate.
“He’s as consistent, straightforward and positive as anyone I’ve ever worked with,” said Steven Berkenfeld, another former Lehman banker who co-founded Barclays’ clean-tech initiative. “I don’t see him get upset, I don’t see him get frustrated.”
That’s rare on Wall Street, as Mr. Berkenfeld noted, and Mr. Roosevelt himself seems an odd fit for an industry that has come under fire for its excess.
Mr. Roosevelt is trim, unassuming, and, true to his roots as a former Navy SEAL and State Department attaché, notably lacking in any Wall Street flash; in a recent interview at Barclays’ Midtown Manhattan headquarters, he wore an immaculately cut and very simple navy blue suit and red tie with charcoal stripes. His coordinating cufflinks were the silk knots that come as placeholders with well-made shirts. There was no giant watch, no pocket square, nothing of the bankerly peacock.
Mr. Roosevelt grew up on a farm in small-town Pennsylvania, riding horses and chasing snakes and frogs. His mother, a Kentucky native, taught him to set a trap line. He left the farm to attend Groton, the same Massachusetts boarding school that his father and grandfather attended.
Given his family’s political history, he early on developed an internationalist bent. In college at Harvard in the 1960s, Roosevelt eagerly planned to join the foreign service, but first he served two tours of duty as a Navy SEAL frogman in a submarine in Vietnam
After Vietnam, he joined the State Department and was posted in West Africa. When the State Department was examining trade policy, he took a leave of absence to learn more about it at the Harvard Business School. While there – and during a summer working at the now-defunct Kidder Peabody – he found he preferred the more flexible world of banking to the straitlaced world of international diplomacy. His family accepted the idea: “The only rule in my family was: whatever you do, you should do it well,” he said.
In his interests, he still sounds more like an international policy wonk than a deal maker. He considered a run for the Senate last year, quotes Hubert Humphrey on America’s “third-rate knowledge of the world” and predicts a future when nation-states, delineated by sharp boundaries and unilateral wars, will be overthrown for “market-states,” in which economic and political cooperation will be necessary to fight terrorism.
This view of the world is where Mr. Roosevelt’s Wall Street loyalties come into play. He believes that banks will, again, be ascendant.