Sandra Pianalto, who heads the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, offered four key leadership lessons and touched on current Fed policy issues Wednesday at the University of Akron.
Pianalto, who grew up in Akron and is a graduate of the University of Akron, spoke to students and faculty as part of the College of Business Administration’s Donald L. Kaufman Business Speaker Series.
• Embrace uncertainty and move out of your comfort zone.
• Always keep learning, wherever life’s journey goes.
• To earn respect, you have to give it.
• Find something you are passionate about and pursue it.
Some of the leadership lessons came from her parents, who emigrated to the United States from Italy when she was 5 years old, Pianalto said.
“They had no idea what to expect here in the United States,” she said. What sets the United States apart from other nations is the “incredible adaptability” of its people, she said.
She told the audience that while people of her parents’ generation likely changed jobs four times in their lives, today’s young generation can expect to have four career changes. Businesses and occupations will become obsolete and new companies and jobs will spring up in their place, she said.
Pianalto said she worked her way up the ranks after joining the Cleveland Fed in 1983, receiving a major promotion in 1993 to chief operating officer responsible for the bank’s 1,500 employees.
People cannot command respect simply because they are given a title, she said.
“I realized the key to the success of the bank was the success of every employee in the bank,” Pianalto said. Her approach to employees and how the bank should be run is what led to her being promoted to president and chief executive officer in 2003, she said.
“I’m lucky I have my dream job,” Pianalto said.
Then she added: “Be careful what you wish for.”
This is an interesting time to be a policymaker, she said.
The Federal Reserve under the leadership of Chairman Ben Bernanke has taken unprecedented steps to stabilize the economy in the aftermath of the Great Recession that include taking interest rates down to zero and then making asset purchases, she said.
When the crisis hit, the Fed moved to provide liquidity “to prevent a total financial meltdown” of the U.S. economy, she said.
Some of the Fed’s tools hadn’t been used in decades — or even at all, she said.
“We are all too painfully aware the U.S. economy continues to struggle,” she said. The Federal Reserve’s congressional mandate is to provide price stability and maximum employment, she said.
The Fed’s moves are intended to keep business and consumer interest rates low, she said.
“We are continuing to use innovative approaches all aimed at getting the economy back on track,” Pianalto said. “Monetary policy cannot cure all ills.”
In taking questions from the audience, Pianalto said that consumers have gone through a rough period and are paying down debt, also called deleveraging.
“That is good for the economy in the long run,” she said. “It’s just going to take time.”
One person wanted to know if the Federal Reserve should have seen ahead of time that the nation was nearing an economic meltdown.
“That’s an appropriate question and one we need to keep asking ourselves,” Pianalto said.
She noted that Bernanke was a student of the history of the Great Depression.
“We are all learning we should have known more,” Pianalto said. She said she could give a whole speech on the lessons learned from the Great Recession.
Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or firstname.lastname@example.org