Sunday, March 09, 2014
On March 5th, John Williams, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, visited Albers to speak in the Albers Executive Speaker Series. Since Williams serves on the Fed Open Market Committee (FOMC) and helps set US monetary policy, this was a special opportunity for our students and a true privilege for us to host him. It is the dream of every Money and Banking professor (and every former M&B professor like me!) to have a member of the FOMC on campus!
Nearly 300 students, faculty, staff, and friends gathered in Pigott Auditorium for his talk on, "The Federal Reserve: Inside Monetary Policy." In the talk, he wanted to address three questions: (1) What is so important about the Fed?; (2) What does the Fed actually do?; and (3) How does the Fed impact the economy?
On the first point, he noted that only the Fed sets monetary policy for the US, which is important for both the domestic and global economies. The Fed does this in a non-partisan way and thus far has been able to maintain its political independence. Williams also noted that the Fed has become much more transparent about monetary policy, which most observers see as a much welcome development.
While the Fed supervises banks and oversees the payments system, its most important function is to set monetary policy. The primary instrument for this is buying and selling securities through open market operations. We used to say Treasury securities, but since the Great Recession the Fed has shown it is willing and able to buy and sell other securities! Williams offered a frequently overlooked fact - the Fed has a great business model, as open market operations consistently generate a surplus of $80-90 billion a year!
To answer the final question on the Fed's impact, Williams provided financial market data on two episodes. The first was the June 19th , 2013 FOMC announcement that it would begin to think about "tapering" back its "Quantitative Easing," which was a surprise to the financial markets. The second was the Fed's September 18th, 2013 FOMC announcement that it would make no change to policy, when the financial markets expected some tapering. Williams presented graphs showing the movement of the S&P 500, 10 year Treasury rate, and dollar exchange rate at the times of those announcements. The graphs gave a vivid illustration that the Fed can make those variables move!
In the Q&A, Williams was asked how other central banks respond to our monetary policy. He noted that other central banks are most concerned with their policy goals, which can differ from the Fed's, and he noted that Fed was driven by domestic concerns. Although there are differences in central bank goals, policy makers frequently end up on the same page.
He was also asked how to avoid future financial crises. He noted that monetary policy is a blunt instrument and cannot be used to forestall a financial market crisis or pop a financial bubble. He also noted that the Great Recession was not a result of the housing bubble as much as it was the result of financial securities based on the housing market, and thus ultimately savaged when the housing bubble burst. He opined that we will never eliminate asset bubbles, but that stronger regulation and proactive regulatory moves can temper the excess.
When asked about how events in the Ukraine might impact the economy, he noted that at the moment the impact is mostly geo-political, not economic. However, he did note the possibility of a small country like the Ukraine having a contagion effect on the global economy.
As for his short term economic forecast, he expects the economy to continue to grow at 2.5 to 3% and for the unemployment rate to fall to 5.5% by the end of 2015.
Since he has worked closely with Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen, he was asked what it was like to work with her. He responded that she has the respect of everyone at the Fed, and while she herself has strong views on monetary policy, she likes to hear what others have to say and likes a good give and take over policy.
When asked what keeps him awake at night, he returned to the topic of price bubbles, saying he was most concerned about finding a way to identify them and respond appropriately. He feels the Fed responded very effectively to the Great Recession once it got started, but could have done more to think ahead about the housing bubble that led to the downturn.
Williams also proved to have a good sense of humor and to be a good sport. He is still recovering from the Seahawks victory over the San Francisco 49ers in the NFL playoffs. "Just throw it four inches higher!" he exclaimed, in reference to the Seahawks end zone interception. Since both cities are in his district, he can pretend that either as Super Bowl Champion works for him - but not really. Why else would he let the audience know that it was his understanding that the Mariner's season would be over by May! :}
It was an honor and pleasure to have John Williams visit campus on March 5th. It was a rare opportunity for students to hear from someone intimately involved in crafting financial and monetary policy for the US.
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Roy Whitehead, Chairman, President, and CEO of Washington Federal Bank (WF), was the speaker at the most recent Albers Executive Speaker Series event on February 18th. WF is the largest bank headquartered in the state of Washington, with over $14 billion in assets, nearly 2000 employees, and well over 200 branches across eight western state. By not getting caught up with exotic and risky mortgage lending, WF was able to navigate through the Great Recession unscathed and in position to acquire other banks that were failing.
Whitehead wanted the audience to know that banking is an important sector in our economy and a noble profession. Its role in our economy is to provide for the efficient distribution of capital. WF sees itself as a steward of societal resources and acts accordingly. It also knows that it takes a healthy community to have a healthy bank, so it invests its time, talent, and resources back into the communities that it serves.
Whitehead noted how the environment for banking was getting more complicated. The Fed's aggressive moves with quantitative easing have held interest rates low and squeezed margins for banks and savers. While the low rate environment might benefit the stock market and help stabilize the housing market, it results in unintended consequences that are not good for the economy over the long run. This includes introducing a moral hazard that results in increased risk taking, an inflated bond market, and disguising the long run consequence of the large government deficit.
He noted that the economic recovery had been tepid, and his explanation was that businesses were being very cautious with their expansion plans. When faced with conditions not seen before (like now), they are going to be more conservative in how they operate their business.
A second complicating factor for the industry is the increase in rule making, often in an attempt to prevent the reoccurrence of the housing bubble that led to the Great Recession. Increased regulation is requiring more and more resources for regulatory compliance, diverting banks from more productive activities.
Despite these challenges, Whitehead said that the best leaders will look for the opportunities, and they are definitely present in the banking sector. One opportunity is the application of technology to banking services and the payments system. Much has occurred and there is more to come. A second area of opportunity is more sophisticated systems for risk analysis and management. And a final opportunity comes with the application of Big Data to marketing research on the needs of bank customers. Moreover, much of the banking work force is aging out, so there are many opportunities for growth for younger workers.
When asked how the organization chooses its leaders, he noted that aptitude and attitude are important, but the most important element is personal values that align with the company's values. He also noted that WF found that graduates of SU shared their values and for that reason they were anxious recruit SU students!
Whitehead explained that WF was able to weather the financial crisis because they manage the bank over a 3-5 year horizon, and avoid maximizing profits for the next quarter. They knew better than to get into the exotic mortgage products that were developing a decade ago. Holding mortgages on their books rather than selling into the secondary market forced them to keep their underwriting strong. Maintaining a strong capital base, high asset quality, and operating efficiency allowed them to sail through the crisis while others were collapsing. Acquisition opportunities resulted and allowed them to significantly expand their size and footprint. Getting through the Great Recession unscathed was the proudest accomplishment in his career, he said.
In response to a question about whether we overdid it with regulations in the aftermath of the Great Recession, Whitehead is certain we have and that the new regulations will not prevent the next crisis. He was highly critical of the size of some financial institutions, and said this had been facilitated by using FDIC insured deposits to fund risky activities. He favored a return to Glass-Steagall and the separation of commercial and investment banking.
When asked how he ended up in the banking industry, he said that when growing up, he wanted to be a shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds, but realized the odds were against him. Instead, he saw that there were many businesses and they all had a CEO, so aspiring to be a CEO seemed to offer better odds. In earning his business degree at the University of South Carolina, Dr. Oliver Wood became his mentor, and Wood pushed him to consider the banking industry. When he graduated, he started out working for the Federal Reserve on the regulatory side, but soon switched to the other side of the industry, and more than 35 years later has become one of the most respected leaders in the banking industry.
Roy Whitehead's visit to the speaker series was a great opportunity to learn from a widely admired business leader. With his integrity, commitment to the community, and focus on the fundamentals of his industry, he serves as a terrific role model for our students.
Friday, January 24, 2014
On January 16th, Ray Conner, President and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes (BCA) and Vice Chairman of the Boeing Company visited Albers for the Albers Executive Speaker Series. He is the fourth BCA CEO to speak in the series, following Alan Mulally, Frank Shrontz, Scott Carson, and Jim Albaugh. More than 400 were in attendance.
Conner started the presentation reflecting on the six decade relationship between Boeing and SU. Much of BCA's current leadership team graduated from the Albers School and Conner noted they are very capable leaders who embody the values of Boeing. This speaks to the quality of their SU education and the quality of SU faculty, he noted.
Conner took the occasion to look back at the year 2013. it was a challenging year but an important one in terms of testing the organization. Conner noted the year included the 787 grounding, the SPEAA and IAM contracts, and the roll out of two new planes (787-10 and 777-x).
Conner was very proud of how BCA responded to the 787 grounding. They did three years of work in three months to find a solution, he noted. Only Boeing could do that, he said. They did not lose a customer in that period and continued to sell 787's. Despite the crisis, BCA sold a record 1355 airplanes.
Regarding the recent renegotiation of the IAM contract, he said they wanted to be able to build the 777x here while maintaining the best pay in the industry. Conner said they accomplished both those goals with this contract.
Conner believes Airbus has become a formidable competitor and their product line has improved. They are also very aggressive on pricing. Airbus wants to obtain 60% market share and Conner said that would be very dangerous for Boeing. He recalled what happened with McDonnell Douglas, which saw its market share fall to 40% and could not compete as a result.
In the Q&A, he said that outsourcing to emerging nation customers was here to stay. These governments want to generate jobs and who can blame them. Conner said they would do this step by step, making sure the customer earned their stripes as a supplier. This is not a give away program, he argued.
Conner shared that his start at Boeing was due to a bad fishing season in Alaska. He worked as the engineer on a salmon fishing boat and the summer season was so bad, he needed to find a job afterwards. In applying for a job, he had the option of a desk job or a machinist (thanks to working as the engineer on the boat), and went with the machinist position since he figured with overtime he could earn more. What he thought would be a short term stay at Boeing turned into a 37 year and counting career at Boeing!
Conner said he subsequently had opportunities in supplier management and sales, and that combined with his experience in manufacturing, has been invaluable to him as a Boeing leader.
Conner noted that once you are in the airplane business, it is hard to leave. As a result, you develop long standing relationships and friendships. This is not just within Boeing, but also includes suppliers and customers. People remember you for your honesty and integrity (or not) and so your reputation in the business is very important. No doubt that is part of the explanation for why Conner has been such a successful leader at Boeing!
Conner's visit was an excellent opportunity for our students and alumni to hear from one of the region's top business leaders. He is coming off a challenging year, but one that he and BCA have been able to navigate successfully. It was also clear to the audience that he is an authentic and principled leader.
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
"The Road to Omaha" is used to reference getting to the NCAA D1 College World Series for baseball. "The Road through Omaha" is my shorthand for Seattle U's victory over Creighton University in the first round of the NCAA D1 men's soccer post-season tournament.
On November 21st, SU played Creighton in Omaha and snatched a 2-1 victory over the favored Bluejays. I went to the game because I spent 19 years at Creighton before coming to SU in 2001. I went to many Creighton soccer games at what was then Tranquility Field, which was about 10 miles west of campus at a windblown location. Most of the time it was with my kids, who were able to run all over the place and pay little attention to the games.
Today, Creighton has a soccer stadium on campus, and it is no doubt one of the finest facilities in the nation, even finer than our own Championship Field. But there was nothing the stadium could do about the weather on November 21st. The 7:00 PM game was played in 20 degrees, 20 mile an hour winds out of the north, and snow on a turf field.
That's weather that we never see in Western Washington, so a decided advantage for the Bluejays. Nevertheless, our team was able to overcome the elements and pull off a surprise. Creighton started the scoring with a fluke goal, but SU was able to respond and the score was tied at the half. Weather conditions were continuing to deteriorate and we were starting the second half with the wind at our backs, which was becoming more and more of an advantage. With about 25 minutes to go, SU scored a second goal to go up 2-1. Both SU goals were solid finishes by Miguel Gonzalez, despite the elements.
Creighton tried to rally back, and had a few opportunities, but could not get it into the net. The clock wound down and SU had its first D1 post-season soccer victory, and apparently the first victory in post-season D1 play since 1965 in any sport!
Having lived in Nebraska for 19 years, I was fairly well prepared for the weather. Still, by the end of the game my hands and feet were feeling it. No excuse for the hands, though. Prior to the game, Coach Fewing gave me some hand warmers, but during the game I forgot that I had them, so never put them to use. Sorry, coach!
Naturally, part of the reason for the trip was to see people at Creighton that I worked with for 19 years. With the stadium on campus, that was fairly easy to do. But no one seemed to be taking the Redhawks seriously, despite my warnings that I would not have travelled all that way for anything less than a victory. I was able to see the new digs of what is now the Heider College of Business in the Harper Center. Very impressive and a big improvement over the Eppley Building!
Beating Creighton earned SU the privilege of playing UW here in Seattle. It seems a bit ironic that after all the drama in Omaha, we earn the right to play our reinstated cross-town rival.
I went to the UW game on November 24th, and the weather could not have been better for Seattle at this time a year, yet alone in comparison to Omaha several days before. UW prevailed with a 4-2 victory, but I could not help thinking that the last time I had been to the UW stadium was to watch Creighton play UW! I was also pleasantly surprised at the amount of Red in the stands!
In one way, I appreciated the nice weather, but on the other hand, as UW's Michael Harris continued to plague SU with his flip throw-ins, I could not help but wonder. There is no way he could have done that in Omaha. The snow covered turf would have been too slick and he would have been neutralized! Maybe that Omaha weather was not so bad after all!
2013 was a great year for men's and women's soccer at SU! With two terrific coaches in Julie Woodward and Pete Fewing, I am looking for more of the same in 2014!
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
On November 18th, the Albers School and the Matteo Ricci College co-sponsored an appearance by Hedrick Smith, author of Who Stole the American Dream? Smith is a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, Emmy Award winning producer, and bestselling author. Prior to publishing Who Stole the American Dream?, he wrote The Russians and The Power Game, two critically acclaimed books. He has won Pulitzer Prizes for his work on the Pentagon Papers and for reporting from Russia in the early 1970's. He has also produced several Emmy award winning specials for the PBS Frontline program. Smith has won the Columbia-Dupont Gold Baton for the year's best public affairs program on U.S. television twice, and also received the George Polk, George Peabody, and Sidney Hillman awards for his excellence in reporting.
In his latest book, Smith explores the demise of the middle class in the US. He started off his lecture by saying some societies succumb to threats from the outside, while others are threatened from within. He said the US is threatened from within due to increasing income and wealth inequality.
According to Smith, this decline can be traced to policy in DC. Decades ago the middle class was able influence policy via a strong union movement, the women's movement, the consumer movement, and the environmental movement. Then, a "Revolt of the Bosses" took place, where the business sector organized and fought back, creating such entities as the Business Roundtable to lobby for its interests. He traced this movement back to the writings of Supreme Court Justice Louis Powell and said it launched the expansion of increasingly successful corporate lobbying and PR in our nation's capital.
Smith cited such legislation as the creation of 401k plans, modifications in the corporate bankruptcy code, the end of usury laws, and more favorable capital gains tax treatment as rising from the growth of corporate power and at the same time undermining the middle class.
In the decades since, as the economy continued to progress, productivity gains were scoped up by the upper class and family incomes stagnated. At the same time, the cost of key goods such as health care, education, and home ownership rose significantly, forcing families to borrow if they wanted to acquire these goods. It's no wonder that families overcommitted in real estate, argues Smith.
There is no denying that the distribution of income and wealth is deteriorating in the US, and we cannot take comfort in the idea that all are being lifted up by a rising tide. This rising tide is definitely not lifting all boats. Policy changes in Washington have definitely contributed to this unfortunate trend, but policy alone is not the culprit. Globalization, an inconsistent education system, and technology access are part of the explanation as well. Add to that list the polarization of politics in the US, which will prevent us from addressing this trend for the foreseeable future.
Smith's presentation was an interesting contrast to one that took place on campus later that evening by Chris Matthews of MSNBC fame. Matthews also has a new book out - Tip and the Gipper -- and was co-hosted by Town Hall and Seattle University. Some of the things Smith condemned for undermining the middle class, such as a lower capital gains tax rates, Matthews was hailing as bi-partisan accomplishments. Matthews did not take on corporate lobbyists, but instead chose to focus on unrestrained campaign contributions, arguing the key was to keep electing Democratic presidents so that the Supreme Court could be changed out and free speech redefined as speech and not campaign contributions.
Interesting evening on campus!!
Friday, November 08, 2013
Phyllis Campbell, Chairman of JP Morgan Chase Pacific Northwest, was our speaker for the Albers Executive Speaker Series on November 7th. Phyllis formerly served as chair of the Seattle University Board of Trustees, so she is a very good friend of the university.
The title of her talk was, "Leading in the Turbulent Financial Sector." She opened by recalling an episode in 2009 when she had just accepted the position with JP Morgan, leaving the Seattle Foundation which she had headed up since 2003. She was on a plane headed to New York, having a very nice conversation with her seat mate, but when he found out she had just taken a job with JP Morgan, he said he could not believe she had done that, since he had thought she was "a nice person." That illustrates what public opinion about JP Morgan was like back in 2009.
In 2013, JP Morgan is still surrounded in controversy, and Phyllis acknowledged how the "London Whale" episode and the bank's recent attempts to settle with regulators are still weighing on the firm's reputation.
In trying to lead through these five challenging years at JP Morgan, Phyllis shared three lessons she had learned:
- Be totally transparent. - acknowledge your mistakes and learn from them.
- Do the right thing, but also do things right. - there is no room for error. Banking is a highly regulated industry and there is a compliance culture.
- Step up and address the concerns of the regulator. - if the regulator has a concern, address it and move on. Get it behind you so you can focus on the customer and the business.
When asked who her mentor was, she replied that she had many mentors, but the one with the most impact was her father. He ran a dry cleaning business and was not college educated. What lessons did she learn from her father? First, whatever you decide to take on, be the best you can be. Second, devote yourself to a cause greater than yourself. She gave the example of her father signing up for service in the military even though he had been interned in the camps with other Japanese during WWII. Despite the mistreatment, he still believed in his country.
When asked how JP Morgan can best restore its reputation in the community, Phyllis said they would do that by increased philanthropy (every business should have the philosophy that you do as well as your community does), working with community partners (non-profits who are working to improve the community), and doing things right by your customers every day.
A question was posed about how she would describe her leadership style. She answered by saying that humility was important. You have to realize you do not have all the answers and need to learn from your mistakes. Second, you should be working on empowering and mentoring the people in your organization. Third, you need to be resilient and optimistic so that others in the organization will not be discouraged by difficult times.
What are her core values? Phyllis said what drives her is a desire to give back to the community, the value of hard work, and a desire to be the best she can be.
Phyllis Campbell was an inspiration to our students in the audience, particularly our women and Asian students. It is important that they have role models of success as Phyllis exemplifies it. She is not just a successful banker, but an impactful leader in our community working for the common good.
Our next speaker is on January 16th when Ray Conner, President and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, will visit.
Friday, November 01, 2013
Today, many of the faculty and staff of the Albers School spent the day off-campus at an all-day strategic planning session. That is right, the Albers School is developing a new strategic plan! Our current plan was finalized in 2010, and while we have refreshed it every year, it needs to be updated. In the meantime, the university finalized a new strategic plan in February, and we need a plan that is informed by the university plan.
Our process includes a 27 member strategic planning team, including faculty, staff, students, advisory board members, and representatives from other parts of campus. We have two facilitators, Mike Diamond and Mark Robison from Academic Leadership Associates, who are doing a fine job of guiding our process. This was our second full day meeting and a final meeting is scheduled for December 6th.
Between meetings we have five committees working on our five strategic objectives, which are around preparing highly demanded graduates, a compelling curriculum, the impact of faculty scholarship, social justice, and business and alumni engagement.
Each committee is charged with developing strategic initiatives that support their strategic objective, and then building out the action items and assigning responsibility and time lines. All this needs to come together by the middle of December and it will!
We have looked at the mission statement and have decided we need to update it. Stay tuned for that!
We have a good track record with strategic planning. Since I started as dean in 2001, this will be our fifth strategic plan. Prior plans were developed in 2002, 2004, 2007, and 2010. Some processes have been more elaborate than others, with the first one in 2002 being the most demanding. In fact, Mike Diamond was one of the facilitators for that plan!
What are some of the lessons I have learned about strategic planning? They would be:
- Use an outside facilitator, and definitely do not, as the leader, try to be the facilitator for the process. Also, don't use someone else from the organization as the facilitator. No matter how well respected they are, they have an agenda and a perspective that is hard to overcome.
- Make sure the planning team is widely representative of the organization, and add some people from the outside who can provide a different perspective.
- Communicate with everyone who is not on the planning team about how the plan is shaping up. Do not bring them a finished product that they are seeing for the first time.
- If you, as the leader, have something you definitely want in the strategic plan, get that in the mix early. Do not wait until the end to throw that in.
- Don't be afraid to reach out to people outside the planning team to help out along the way. They will be happy to be included and can make up for competencies the planning team may lack.
Stay tuned for the Albers School's new strategic plan!