Unassuming ex-banker who 'never seems to seek spotlight'

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and actress Louise Linton - the couple were married on June 24 this year - at the presidential Inauguration of Mr Donald Trump in January. Amid the outrage sparked by his wife, Mr Mnuchin now faces the challenge o
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and actress Louise Linton - the couple were married on June 24 this year - at the presidential Inauguration of Mr Donald Trump in January. Amid the outrage sparked by his wife, Mr Mnuchin now faces the challenge of convincing Mr Trump that the government needs to raise the federal limit on borrowing.PHOTO: REUTERS

Instagram posts by his new wife, actress Louise Linton, have turned up the heat on US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who has hitherto managed to stay under the radar. Straits Times US correspondent Paul Zach takes a closer look at the Washington power couple.

While his new wife was trying to convince Americans that she was sorry for slamming a voter who took exception to her flaunting her designer clothes, jewels and high-flying lifestyle on Instagram, Mr Steven Mnuchin was wondering how to convince his boss, US President Donald Trump, that the government needs to raise the federal limit on borrowing.

That challenge, which the Treasury Secretary says must be met by late next month to ensure the US government can pay its bills, will put the spotlight on the former Goldman Sachs banker, who has kept a lower profile than many of the President's men so far.

Although he was caught leaving a tailor shop during office hours in the Capitol recently, the bespectacled Mr Mnuchin, 54, has not come across as craving the limelight like his wife or his boss.

Yet Bush administration economic adviser Glenn Hubbard came away from discussing the debt ceiling and other daunting challenges with Mr Mnuchin, telling The Washington Post: "He has an unassuming manner, but he should not be underestimated."

Born in New York City, Mr Mnuchin, like Mr Trump, followed his father, Robert, who was a partner at Goldman Sachs, into the family business, after graduating from Yale University in 1985.

After leaving the finance firm with a fortune in 2002, Mr Mnuchin formed a hedge fund that invested in hotel properties run by Mr Trump in Honolulu and Chicago. He later bought into ailing California lender IndyMac and helped turn it into southern California's largest bank, OneWest, by 2010.

By then, Mr Mnuchin had also moved into the movie business, financing the box-office smash Avatar, and producing many others including Mad Max: Fury Road, the Lego movies, American Sniper and Wonder Woman.

Mr Mnuchin joined Mr Trump's presidential campaign as its national finance chairman last year, and The New York Times observed that "he never seemed to seek the spotlight". He later admitted that a lot of people in his New York and California circles wanted to "stop being friends".

His friendship with Mr Trump, however, continues - so far. It remains to be seen if it can weather the looming battle over the debt ceiling, not to mention the President's great expectations of the US GDP to grow by 5 per cent under his Treasury Secretary's stewardship.

As a talking head on CNN pointed out last week with a wink, one movie franchise that Mr Mnuchin's production company was responsible for was, well, Horrible Bosses.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 28, 2017, with the headline 'Unassuming ex-banker who 'never seems to seek spotlight''. Print Edition | Subscribe