The Romney Institute of Public Management at Brigham Young University honored Sheila C. Bair as its 2012 Administrator of the Year for her management of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation during the recent economic downturn.
Speaking to nearly 175 students, alumni and faculty at the event, Bair, who served as the 19th chairman of the FDIC from 2006 to 2011, reflected on her experiences in public service and praised those seeking to enter the industry.
"For those wanting to go into public service I think you deserve not only a standing ovation, but you also deserve a ticker tape parade," Bair said. "One of the best things that an organization like the Romney Institute can do is teach students to have courage to lead. No matter what kind of push back you get, your job is to serve the public interest. If you've done that, you will be recognized."
Bair's leadership during a tumultuous period in the nation's financial sector has led her to receive many accolades, including being named by Forbes magazine as the second most-powerful woman in the world in 2008 and 2009, behind only Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel. Also in 2008, Bair topped The Wall Street Journal's annual 50 "Women to Watch List."
"Ms. Bair was an easy choice for this award because she is committed to serving the public," says David Hart, director of the Romney Institute. "When Ms. Bair stepped down as FDIC chair she probably had many opportunities to make a lot of money in the private sector. But where did she go? She went to a charitable foundation. That's indicative of the type of person she is."
When Bair arrived at the FDIC in fall 2006, she quickly realized that operational issues within the organization needed to be fixed. Employee morale was down after recent layoffs gave the perception that the reductions were not based on merit but on personal opinion.
After commissioning an employee survey, Bair opened up lines of communication, initiated quarterly call-ins and revamped a troubled pay-for-performance system. Before long, employee morale soared as the FDIC was listed number three of the "Best Places to Work in the Government for 2010," among more than 200 comparable federal organizations.
"I like to work on policy," Bair said. "But I quickly realized you don't do policy work if you have an operationally ineffective agency to execute those policies."
Bair also led FDIC resolution strategies to sell failing banks to healthier institutions, while providing credit support of future losses from failed banks' troubled loans. These strategies saved the Deposit Insurance Fund $40 billion it would have incurred if the FDIC had liquidated those banks.
After stepping down as FDIC chair in September 2011, Bair joined the Pew Charitable Trusts as a senior adviser. In this role she provides counsel to the nonpartisan group on matters of fiscal and economic stability.
"It's easy to come up with programs that sound good on paper," Bair said. "It's a lot harder to actually design a program that can be approved, funded, implemented and executed in a way that achieves its goals. That's why it's so important we have institutions like this one to teach management skills to help folks realize their objectives."