Sheila Bair is one of seven recipients of the 2011 Top American Leaders awards, bestowed by The Washington Post’s On Leadership section and the Harvard Kennedy School's Center for Public Leadership. This year’s recipients were chosen by a selection committee convened by the Center for Public Leadership, and will be honored at Ford’s Theatre on December 5, 2011.
This profile was written by Tom Fox, author of the Washington Post’s Federal Coach blog. Visit On Leadership to see more of the winners’ profiles.
Sometimes, people in government have 20-20 foresight.
Sheila C. Bair, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) from 2006 until July of this year, warned as early as 2001 about abuses in subprime lending. She continued to sound the alarm about the mortgage industry and foreclosure practices as the country headed into the mortgage crisis in 2008.
Bair’s outspokenness didn’t make her a favorite with members of the banking industry, but she wasn’t concerned about making nice with Wall Street. Her job was to protect depositors and help shore up the financial system. She pushed hard for an aggressive mortgage-refinancing program to help homeowners in financial straits, managed a number of very large failed institutions at the height of the crisis, and played a key role in crafting financial reforms eventually approved by Congress.