Head of Richmond Fed Shares Economic Outlook, Offers 10 Life and Career Tips at UVA Darden

By Dave Hendrick

Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond President and CEO Tom Barkin describes himself as the rare central banker to come from the private sector, taking the top spot at the Richmond Fed after 30 years at the global consulting firm McKinsey & Co., where he served as CFO.

Speaking at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business at a Leadership Speaker Series address, Barkin said he hoped his experience as someone who had been immersed in the nuts and bolts of business, hiring and firing, and raising and lowering prices, brought a unique perspective to the job.

“I think I can actually bring something a little bit different, and I’m working hard to do that,” Barkin said.

The CEO said he wasn’t going to share “high-falutin” notions on leadership, a topic he joked he wasn’t sure he knew that much about, but instead shared 10 life tips he has learned over the years.

Barkin’s list included:

  1. Find someone you’d like to be like. Darden graduates are going to find a job, Barkin said; the trick is finding the right job. Look for companies with good people who you would aspire to be like.
  2. Focus on slope, not position in range. New associates he worked with at McKinsey frequently wanted to know how they stacked up against other new hires. Top performers typically focused less on immediate performance trajectory and more on longer-term growth trajectory.
  3. Move work to costless (vs. costly) time. Work-life balance is aided by using time as productively as possible, Barkin said. Working on planes and on Sunday mornings when his family is otherwise engaged frees up hours for nonwork pursuits, for instance.
  4. Don’t try to solve problems you don’t have. Two-thirds will go away on their own, and you can’t predict the future.
  5. No transaction is worth a good relationship. Take the time to understand and empathize with the other side of the bargaining table.
  6. Treat people how they want to be treated, not how you do. Don’t assume that what works for you is the preferred treatment of others.
  7. Find and pursue positive energy. High-pressure jobs can be surrounded with potential negativity. Find the people and activities that provide enough positive energy to give you the fuel to handle the negative energy.
  8. Exploit natural synergies. Bond and work with clients and coworkers over shared interests, whether books or baseball.
  9. Leverage the power of genuine enthusiasm. When you meet someone and are genuinely excited about what they are doing, express it. People will remember passionate people when opportunities arise.
  10. Don’t trade happy for the prospect of happier. If you’re good at something, trying to trade happy today for the prospect of happier somewhere else is a very risky trade.

Barkin also engaged in a Q&A with audience, offering his thoughts on a range of topics, from global trade to a potential recession.

Impact of Trade Wars on the US and Global Economies

“The international economies are very weak and I think they are very weak in part because of what’s happening in trade. Where it hits the U.S. economy is uncertainty. I’d put it like this: I’m a business person, I’m running my company and I’m trying to think about growth. How do I decide to grow if I don’t know what the rules are going to be? … It really is stifling investment, in my opinion.”

Prospect of Recession

“What I focus on is confidence. Consumer confidence and business confidence. Consumers are 68 percent of the economy. As I said earlier, all this uncertainty — political, geopolitical, the Middle East, Brexit — is causing [businesses] to take a step back. So you’ll see the investment side of the economy, manufacturing, that is clearly flattening. On the positive side, rates are down and autos and residential are clearly strong. … We’ll see in two weeks the retail sales report and in four weeks the consumer spending report. If you see that bouncing back then I don’t worry about recession as long as consumers spend.”

Editor’s note: Barkin delivered his address on 3 October.

Prospects for a US-China Trade Pact

“I have no idea. I believe that this country, and probably China, too, are relatively aligned on the notion that this isn’t a short-term fight. This is a long-term negotiation that will last across administrations. Democrats and Republicans seem to be aligned on that. If I was in consulting advising clients, I would say you should expect this to go on 15 to 20 years not 15 to 20 days. That doesn’t mean there won’t be some deal reached next week.”

The Leadership Speaker Series continues on 31 October with UPS Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer Scott Price (MBA/MA ’90).

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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