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Former MIT Professor Nominated to Cabinet

By Rick Klein



President Bush has nominated Samuel W. Bodman ScD ’65, the deputy secretary of the Treasury Department, to be the new energy secretary, turning to the longtime Boston business executive and former MIT professor as he rounds out the Cabinet for his second term.

Bodman, who spent more than 30 years in the private sector in Boston before joining the Bush administration in 2001 as deputy secretary of the Commerce Department, will be charged with shepherding the president’s long-stalled energy legislation through Congress, including the controversial proposal to allow oil drilling at Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Bush said he would look to Bodman to help control energy costs and promote conservation.

“We will pursue more energy close to home, in our own country and in our own hemisphere, so that we’re less dependent on energy from unstable parts of the world,” Bush said at the announcement ceremony in the White House’s Roosevelt Room. “Sam Bodman has shown himself to be a problem solver who knows how to set goals and he knows how to reach them.”

If confirmed by the Senate, Bodman would replace Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham. Nine of Bush’s 15 Cabinet members are not staying for his second term, but the president has moved quickly to fill vacancies.

Bodman, 66, assumed his post as Treasury’s number two official in February, after nearly three years at the Commerce Department. He previously spent nearly 15 years leading the Boston-based Cabot Corp., a chemical manufacturing company, and 16 years in high-profile posts at Fidelity Investments. Before that, he served six years as an associate professor of chemical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he was among the youngest faculty members and where he received a doctor of science degree.

“The job as Energy Secretary, in many ways, combines all aspects of my life’s professional work,” Bodman said in accepting Bush’s nomination. “If confirmed by the Senate, my colleagues and I at the Department of Energy stand ready to carry forward [the president’s] vision of sound energy policy to ensure a steady supply of affordable energy for America’s homes and businesses, and to work toward the day when America achieves energy independence.”

The choice of Bodman caught some in the energy industry by surprise; his name was not among those floated when Abraham announced in November that he was stepping down, and the energy interests that Bodman oversaw at Cabot were fairly limited. But Bodman was recommended for the job by his former boss, outgoing Commerce Secretary Donald Evans, who is a close friend of Bush.

Abraham, a former Michigan senator, also had little energy experience before taking the post, and critics have accused Vice President Dick Cheney of micromanaging energy policy. Those who know Bodman say he will bring to the job a mix of academic, private-sector, and public-sector experience, as well as a sharp intellect.

“If anybody can figure out these issues the Energy Department is dealing with, Sam could do it,” said Kennett F. Burnes, Bodman’s successor as Cabot’s chief executive, who had worked under him since during most of his stay at Cabot. “His mind is extraordinarily creative and innovative. He has an ability to see things in a very broad and yet comprehensive way.”

Bodman will assume the post at a time of high oil prices, as winter begins and demand is set to rise. Aside from the energy legislation, which Bush has said he remains committed to passing, Bodman will be charged with developing a long-term storage solution for waste from nuclear power plants, amid budgetary pressures, terrorism concerns, and local opposition in Nevada, where the Bush administration wants waste stored at Yucca Mountain.

While working for Fidelity, Bodman launched Fidelity Ventures, a venture capital business, and rose to become president of FMR Corp., Fidelity’s holding company. During his tenure there, Fidelity became a far bigger player in the financial services industry.

At Cabot, Bodman oversaw 45 manufacturing plants in 25 countries, and developed and later sold off businesses that produced oil and gas and that ran the liquefied natural gas terminal in Boston Harbor. Analysts credit him with stabilizing a company that had shaky finances, and with paring down and strengthening its business interests, boosting share values.

“He completely turned the company around,” said Michael Judd, an analyst at Greenwich Consultants who focuses on Cabot. “They took a company that was basically a sleepy, high-cost company, and they cut a lot of costs and created a lot of shareholder value. He’s very deliberate and very smart.”

Bush’s nomination of Bodman drew praise from energy lobbying and business groups, which said his background in science, engineering, finance, and the private sector leaves him well prepared for the new job.

“Sam Bodman is a chemical engineer, knows the energy industry, and has a wealth of experience in finance and manufacturing,” said Tom Reilly, president of the American Chemistry Council. “The president picked the right man.”