Robert Zoellick, a seasoned US player in international financial and diplomatic circles, won the unanimous approval of the World Bank's board on Monday to become the poverty-fighting institution's next president.
Zoellick will succeed Paul Wolfowitz, whose last day is Saturday, ending a stormy two-year tenure. The new president will take the reins Sunday, the first day of his five-year term.
"I am ready to get to work," Zoellick declared, shortly after the board's action.
Wolfowitz courted controversy from the start because of his role in the Iraq war when he was deputy defense secretary. However, it was his role in arranging a hefty pay raise for Shaha Riza, his girlfriend and bank employee, that forced his upcoming departure. That prompted a staff revolt and calls by Europeans and others for Wolfowitz to resign.
President George W. Bush turned to Zoellick - his former top trade envoy and No. 2 diplomat- to heal the wounds and mend the relationships strained by the Wolfowitz episode.
Zoellick, 53, brings to the World Bank years of experience in the foreign and economic policy arenas under three Republican presidents, starting with Ronald Reagan. Zoellick left the Bush administration last year to become an executive at the Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs.
The board, in a brief statement, said Zoellick brings "strong leadership and managerial qualities as well as a proven track record in international affairs and the drive required to enhance the credibility and effectiveness of the bank."
As World Bank chief, he will have his work cut out for him. He will need to regain trust, rebuild credibility and mend frayed relations inside the institution as well as with its 185 member countries worldwide. He will also need to persuade countries to contribute nearly $30 billion over the next few years to fund a centerpiece bank program that provides interest-free loans to the world's poorest countries.
The 24-member board said it was confident that Zoellick would be able to "address the challenges facing the bank." Of those challenges, Zoellick said: "The world has changed enormously since the creation of the bank some 60 years ago. This accomplished institution of development, reconstruction and finance not only needs to adapt: it must lead the way," to bring about global change to help the world's poor.
To begin the healing process, Zoellick took a two-week global tour to Africa, Europe and Latin America. His goals were listening and learning, he said.
He has also been working to keep lines of communications open with the board. Zoellick met with the board for around four hours last Wednesday to discuss key issues, including challenges of development, the bank's governance and leadership as well as future strategic directions. He plans to reach out to staff, as well.
By tradition, the World Bank has been run by an American. The Bush administration made clear it wanted to keep that decades-old practice firmly intact throughout the Wolfowitz debacle. The United States is the bank's largest shareholder and its biggest financial contributor. The bank, created in 1945 to rebuild Europe after World War II, provides more than $20 billion a year for projects such as building dams and roads, bolstering education and fighting disease.