A heartland view

1 Jun


For all the criticism and headlines and speeches and votes that go along with being a longtime leader of the Federal Reserve Bank – and now the vice chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, better known as the FDIC, in Washington, D.C. – Thomas Hoenig is a humble Iowa boy at heart.

Tom (M.S. ’72 economics, Ph.D. ’74) grew up in Fort Madison, Iowa, the oldest of seven children. It was there on the banks of the Mississippi River that Tom learned about basic economics as a child in his father’s plumbing company.

“I was an inventory taker when I was 9 years old,” he says. “I think my father has a lot to do with my work ethic. He grew up on a farm. He worked from morning till night. After World War II he became a plumber, then bought his own business and built it and raised seven kids doing it.”

Tom’s Midwestern upbringing may explain his often-dissenting votes and outspoken criticism of “too big to fail” banks.

“We feel like Tom represents a heartland view of the economy you don’t necessarily get from New York or Washington,” Terry Moore, president of the Omaha Federation of Labor of the AFL-CIO, told Bloomberg Businessweek Magazine in 2010. “He’s an old farm boy from Iowa, and we like that.”

When he hears that quote, Tom chuckles. “It’s flattering,” he says, sitting in his new office at the headquarters of the FDIC in Washington, D.C. “I was at the bank during the banking crisis of the ’80s and the farm crisis of the ’80s and the energy crisis of the ’80s and the real estate crisis of the ’80s and saw all the damage that did, first of all to the banks that made the loans originally thinking that prices would never go down and interest rates would never go to 20%. So that had enormous influence on my thinking through this round.”

After 38 years at the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City (20 years as president), Tom was nominated in fall 2011 by President Barack Obama to become vice chair of the FDIC.

“I wasn’t expecting it,” Tom says. “I was pleased. It’s something I did want to do. It’s very consistent with the work I had been doing and consistent with my views on the banking industry that I’d expressed over many years. For me, it was a great opportunity.”


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