Henry Paulson's Wingman: Neel Kashkari

The 35-year-old says he is not intimidated by his job as "czar" of U.S. economy.

ByABC News
October 15, 2008, 12:03 PM

Oct. 16, 2008 — -- At 35 years old, Neel Kashkari has already helped design a solar-powered car, worked as a mechanical engineer on a NASA telescope and served as a vice president at Goldman Sachs & Co.

Now, Kashkari is facing a challenge of new proportions: Save the U.S. economy.

Kashkari was nicknamed the "$700 billion man" and the "bailout czar" after being tapped by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson last week to run the Office of Financial Stability.

Kashkari told ABCNews.com in an exclusive interview that he is not intimidated by the job facing him.

"When he [Paulson] offered me the job, I didn't have to think about it even for a second," he told ABCNews.com.

Kashkari told ABCNews.com in an e-mail interview that he thinks his diverse experience is exactly what makes him fit for the job.

"My engineering experience gave me the analytical foundation for working on the credit crisis," wrote Kashkari. "Working on NASA missions, I loved that we were trying to solve problems people had never even thought of before."

"This is similar to this credit crisis - which is unique and challenging," he said.

Dr. Meera Kelley, who knows Kashkari not as the man in charge of billions of the government's money but as her little brother, said he's always been passionate and ambitious.

"He's very determined and ambitious and enjoys being part of a process that makes things better," said Kelley.

Kashkari called his big sister with the news about his appointment last week and was unfazed by the assignment. "I don't think he's nervous about his position, but he's nervous about the position that the country and the economy is in," she said.

"He knows he's in a unique position," added Kelley.

It is his unique position has made some critics nervous, many of whom have not been shy in suggesting that he may be too young to handle the job.

But Jeff Kleintop, a chief investment strategist at LPL Financial, said that while his age is obviously on the mind of many, it's not as if Kashkari is running the show completely solo.

"He's not doing it alone," said Kleintop. "He's going to be able to draw on expertise from a wide variety of deeply experienced people."

Kashkari agrees, telling ABCNews.com that he will be relying heavily on Paulson for advice.

"Let's not overstate my role," he said. "This is Secretary Paulson's highest priority. He is all over it."

Kashkari's sister says she's sure he won't hestitate to ask for help.

"Just like everyone else, he knows he's young, too," said Kelley. "He's not going to walk up and think he knows all the answers."

"He knows to seek the expertise of the people around him," she added.

Youth, added Kleintop, may actually work to Kashkari's advantage.

"We are treading on new ground," said Kleintop, "so to some extent maybe it does take a fresh perspective to look at things."

"Maybe a touch of innovation and a fresher way of looking at things might actually help."