Ferguson, Roger W. 1951–
Roger W. Ferguson 1951–
Economise attorney, federal administrator
In October of 1999, Roger W. Ferguson, Jr. assumed the vice-chairmanship of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. Established in 1913 during the administration of President Woodrow Wilson, the Federal Reserve System supervises the nation’s banks and regulates the money supply and interest rates. Ferguson, who had been a member of the Board of Governors since 1997, was nominated for the vice chairman post by President Bill Clinton. “He is superbly qualified…I am very excited about the prospect of his service. I’m glad he’s willing to do it,” Clinton said of Ferguson to Richard A. Oppel, Jr. of the New York Times. Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan told Oppel that Ferguson is “a person highly respected by his colleagues…an outstanding public servant, with broad experience and sound judgement.”
Roger W. Ferguson, Jr. was born in Washington, D.C., in 1951. His father was a middle level government worker at the U.S. Army’s mapmaking office. His mother taught at a District of Columbia public elementary school. Growing up in Washington’s Northeast section, Ferguson attended a public elementary school. He eventually transferred to Sidwell Friends School, a private institution catering to Washington’s power elite. “I spent most of my time studying,” Ferguson said of his childhood to Mark Leibo-vich of the Washington Post. Ferguson became interested in economics and finance at an early age. His father, despite a modest income, was an avid investor and would travel to the Federal Reserve Bank in Richmond to buy Treasury securities. “He didn’t do it all the time, but he did it enough that it didn’t seem odd to me that an individual would interact with the Federal Reserve,” Ferguson told Jodie T. Allen of U.S. News and World Report.
As an undergraduate at Harvard University, Ferguson studied economics and helped support himself by cleaning dormitory bathrooms. After graduating magna cum laude, Ferguson spent a year in England at Cambridge University’s Pembroke College. Returning to Harvard, Ferguson earned a law degree in 1979 and a doctorate in economics in 1981. He has a strong allegiance to his alma mater and has served on the board of directors of the Harvard Alumni Association.
With his formal education completed, Ferguson began
At a Glance…
Born in Washington, D.C. on October 28, 1951, the son of a U.S. Army mapmaker and a public schoolteacher; married to Annette L. Nazareth; two children. Education: Harvard University, B.A., 1973, J.D., 1479; Ph.D., 1981. Frank Knox Fellow, Pembroke College, Cambridge University, England, 1973–74.
Career: Lawyer, economist, and Federal administrator. Began career as an attorney with law firm of Davis, Polk, and Wardell, New York City, 1981–84; director of research and information and partner with McKinsey and Company, a management consulting firm, NewYork City. 1984–97; member of the Federal Reserve System Board of Governors, Washington, DC, 1 997–99; vice-chairman of Federal Reserve System Board of Governors, 1999-.
Addresses: Home —Washington, DC. Office —Federal Reserve System, Office of the Chairman, 20th and C Sts. NW, Washington. DC 20551–0001.
his career by joining the prestigious New York law firm of Davis, Polk, and Wardell in 1981 as an attorney specializing in banking matters. He worked with commercial and investment banks and corporations on loans, mergers and acquisitions, and new product development. In 1984, he left Davis, Polk, and Wardell to accept a job at McKinsey and Company, an international business consulting firm. Based in New York, Ferguson managed a variety of McKinsey’s management studies for financial institutions. According to David Wessel of the Wall Street Journal, Ferguson’s clients at McKinsey included a large American bank seeking to increase revenues and cut costs and a Japanese bank interested in United States commercial banking. He also dealt with property-casualty insurers and brokerage houses. Ferguson eventually became a partner at McKinsey and director of research and information systems, a position which called for overseeing a staff of four-hundred research professionals and managing McKinsey’s investments in information management technology. Ferguson’s job was especially challenging since the Internet was radically changing the way information was collected, stored, and retrieved.
In order to consolidate McKinsey’s research operations, Ferguson was required to travel to the firm’s offices around the world. “Roger had to convince people in various offices to give up control over research and information. .. My instinct would be to go back and issue an edict but Roger would provide good counsel. He would suggest we give them a little time, and that they would come around. And they usually did,” said Rajat Gupta, a McKinsey colleague of Ferguson’s, to Leibovich. Although Ferguson is well versed in up to date technology, he is only partially convinced that the world economy has permanently shifted to an information and technological base. “I think we have to be open minded because we are experiencing relationships between growth, unemployment, and inflation that are probably outside of historical experience. I don’t think we should be the first to assume the most radical change, because I think you risk a mistake…we may not know for quite a while what has changed and the degree to which that change is permanent or transitory,” Ferguson explained to Allen.
Ferguson’s first hand experience with banking and the private sector, as opposed to being an academic economist, was a significant factor in why he was nominated to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors in 1997. “Roger’s work as a consultant will enable him to bring a solid problem-solver’s perspective to the Fed,” Lowell Bryan, a senior McKinsey partner and head of its financial institutions practice, told Wessel at the time of Ferguson’s nomination to the Board. It was Secretary of the Treasury Lawrence Summers, then Deputy Treasury Secretary, who brought the relatively obscure Ferguson to the attention of the Clinton administration. Ferguson and Summers had been graduate students together at Harvard in the 1970s. “Roger is a thoughtful, capable, straightforward, analytical, wise person,” Summers told Allen. Ferguson was one of several potential nominees interviewed by a selection committee to a fill a vacated seat on the Federal Reserve Board. The committee chose Ferguson by unanimous decision. Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council and member of the selection committee, told John M. Berry of the Washington Post that Ferguson was “very impressive on paper and very impressive in person.”
Ferguson’s nomination was confirmed by the Senate in October of 1997 and he took office the following month, becoming only the third African American in history to serve on the Federal Reserve Board. His predecessors were Andrew Brimmer, nominated by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966, and Emmett Rice, nominated by President Jimmy Carter in 1979. Ferguson grew up in comfortable middle class circumstances, and shuns any rags to riches characterization of his background. As he told Leibovich that “I don’t carry a heavy mantle of representation for a group of people…My goal is just to be successful in any position I hold.”
Members of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors are appointed to 14-year terms. Ferguson took over the unexpired term of Lawrence B. Lindsey, who resigned to join a private investment firm. As a member of the Board of Governors, Ferguson focused much of his attention on technology issues. He chaired the Joint Year 2000 Council, an organization set up by the international banking community to deal with Y2K issues (the inability of some computer systems to recognize dates beyond the 20th century). While many people feared that the start of the year 2000 would result in an information management disaster, Ferguson was not greatly worried. “Thanks to the good work of a large number of people, I think Y2K, when all is said and done, will pass relatively unnoticed,” Ferguson told Allen.
Only a few months remained in Ferguson’s term on the Board of Governors when he was tapped to be the Board’s new vice-chairman, replacing Alice M. Rivlin, who resigned in July of 1999. Nominated in August of 1999, Ferguson took office on October 5, 1999, beginning a four-year term that will run to October 5, 2003. Ferguson is generally seen as a moderate whose views are in accordance with those of long-time Federal Reserve Board chairman, Alan Greenspan. “I would call [Ferguson] a sensible centrist, non-ideological,” said Janet Yellen, a former Federal Reserve governor, to Leibovich. Ferguson’s predecessor Rivlin told Leibov-ich that Ferguson is “strong but not pushy.”
One of Ferguson’s duties as vice-chairman is heading a committee that studies ways to soften the reaction of financial markets to Federal Reserve decisions to raise or lower interest rates. A strategy Ferguson has utilized in regard to this problem is to make clearer and more informative public statements than the Federal Reserve has typically made in the past. “You know, we are in a bit of a dialogue with the market,” Ferguson told Allen, adding that the Federal Reserve’s aim is to “become clearer speakers…and help the markets become better interpreters of what we’re saying.” Another of Ferguson’s tasks is keeping close watch over the effects of deregulation on the banking industry. Ferguson believes that deregulation will make banks more secure by allowing them to diversify their investments but government oversight is still necessary to prevent overinvestment of the type that led to widespread savings and loan failures in the 1980s.
Ferguson’s busy work schedule leaves him little time for outside interests. “I don’t have any deep hobbies,” he told Leibovich. A modest man who is uncomfortable talking about himself, Ferguson makes his home in the District of Columbia and spends what little free time he has with his wife, Annette, and their son and daughter. He has frequently been mentioned as a possible successor to Alan Greenspan as Federal Reserve chairman. Ferguson himself has made no predictions. As he told Allen, “The way I generally run my life is take whatever comes my way…and try to do the best I can.”
American Banker, November 3, 1997, p. 2; August 9, 1999, p. 2.
Black Enterprise, September 1997, p. 24.
Fortune, October 25, 1999, p. 38.
Jet, July 28, 1997, p. 5; August 23, 1999, p. 4; October 18, 1999, p. 6.
New York Times, August 7, 1999, p. C2
U.S. News and World Report, December 6, 1999, p. 60.
Wall Street Journal, April 21, 1997, p. A3.
Washington Post, April 22, 1997, p. C3; August 14, 1999, p. E1
Additional information for this profile was obtained from Federal Reserve Board, Office of the Chairman, and Federal Reserve website (www.federalreserve.gov).
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