What David Petraeus has to offer KKR

(Cliff Owen, File/Associated Press)
(Cliff Owen, File/Associated Press)

The post-scandal career for Gen. David Petraeus is starting to look pretty busy.

First, we learned in April that the four-star general, who stepped down as director of the CIA amid revelations about an extramarital affair, would be joining the City University of New York's Macaulay Honors College for a one-year position as a visiting professor. A few days later, the University of Southern California said Petraeus would be joining the school as a part-time professor and mentor to students who are veterans.

But did anyone really think that's all one of the world's most famous generals would be doing in his pseudo-retirement? I mean, academics is great and all—and lends a certain prestige—but it doesn't, um, pay very much. You know what does? Wall Street. Investment shops. Most of all, private equity firms. Especially private equity firms that can create wholly new institutes built around one person's expertise.

And that's just what Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. has done for Petraeus. The private equity firm announced Thursday that Petraeus would be joining as chairman of the KKR Global Institute, a newly created center within the investment firm. The Global Institute, a press release states, will "build on the firm's efforts to help KKR's portfolio companies expand globally" and will serve "periodically as an outlet for publishing the firm's thought leadership products, including views from portfolio managers and industry experts." The Wall Street Journal reports that the center will "bring together Mr. Petraeus and others at the firm to formalize discussions over macroeconomic and geopolitical forces that could influence KKR's investment decisions."

But trust me, Petraeus is being hired for a lot more than his input on whether or not a KKR-owned company should expand into China or his ability to write white papers or organize meetings about the economy.

Like so many high-profile Washington leaders (former Treasury secretary John Snow and former vice president Dan Quayle both work for Cerberus Capital Management and former president George H. W. Bush did work for the Carlyle Group), I'd guess Petraeus is being hired for his Rolodex and his star wattage. Yes, he's an intellectual in his own right, with a PhD from Princeton and, obviously, unique experience in global affairs. But the introductions he can make—and the people he'll be able to attract—were certainly no afterthought.

Jena McGregor is a columnist for On Leadership.

Read also:

David Petraeus, Mark Sanford, Anthony Weiner and the art of the comeback

Broadwell apologizes for Petraeus affair

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.
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Tom Fox | May 30, 2013