As Timothy F. Geithner began making the publicity rounds on Monday to push his newly released memoir, the former Treasury secretary defended his decision to join a top private-equity firm after leaving office last year.
Critics have charged that Geithner was cashing in on his government experience and was another example of the too-cozy relationship between Washington and Wall Street.
Geithner said he was concerned about the perception but believed the firm he joined, Warburg Pincus, was doing valuable work in an ethical way.
"I spent my life in public service," Geithner told CNBC in an interview to promote his book, "Stress Test," which was released Monday.
"It was such a privilege for me. I loved my work but I couldn’t do it forever," he said. "I wanted to to do something that was interesting and new and kind of distant from what I used to do."
People have been surprised to learn that Geithner never had worked in the financial industry before he became president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and then Treasury secretary.
But critics charged Geithner with selling out to the industry when Warburg Pincus, a New York-based leveraged-buyout firm that manages about $35 billion in assets, announced in November that he would become its top executives.
Geithner became the firm's president in March.
"I was worried about the perception you raised. I thought quite a lot about it," Geithner said when asked about criticism that he was a sellout.
"I didn’t want to, and was not willing to, go work for a firm that we had regulated or that we had rescued," he said, an acknowledgment that the Treasury Department does not regulate private-equity firms and that they received no money from the $700-billion Troubled Asset Relief Program.
"And I know that doesn’t heal the perception completely but I was very conscious of that when I made my choice," he said.