The Economic Club has grown to a record membership of nearly 1,300 people, reporting an average of 550 or more at each luncheon throughout the year. Photo by Mike Nichols
Former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told a West Michigan audience he was surprised how much of his job was wrapped up in politics.
“Not that the Fed is partisan,” he explained at the 29th annual dinner of the Economic Club of Grand Rapids. “It’s very nonpartisan, but there’s an awful lot of contact with Congress, an awful lot of contact with the administration. I had to explain what we were doing. I had to do deal with criticism.”
The May 31 dinner at DeVos Place downtown drew about 1,600 people, including some of West Michigan’s wealthiest and most powerful people. Bernanke, who served two terms as chairman of the Federal Reserve from 2006-14, was the main speaker.
The event also honored Dan DeVos, chairman and CEO of Fox Ventures, as Business Person of the Year and Mark Murray, vice chairman of Meijer Inc., as recipient of the Slykhouse Community Leadership Award.
DeVos was introduced by his younger brother, Doug, who praised his hard work and deep love for his family, friends, employees and business partners.
“My brother Dan is a special guy. There’s two traits I want to start out with to recognize,” Doug DeVos said, smiling at his brother. “The first is courage because he’s letting me — his brother — come out and introduce him, and he has no idea what I’m going to say. And the second, he’s smart because he’s speaking after me and no matter what I say, he’ll correct me in the end.”
Dan DeVos thanked his family, saying his parents Richard and Helen gave him many opportunities to succeed. He called his father a role model in business and in life.
“It’s with their support and encouragement I took a shot,” he said. “Thank you to everyone here who makes a difference for so many in so many different ways.”
Mike Jandernoa, founder and chairman of 42 North Partners, introduced Murray. Jandernoa, himself a former recipient of the Slykhouse Award, praised Murray for his work in government, academia and the private sector.
“Mark has had a unique career. In fact, he’s had three,” Jandernoa said. “He is a brilliant creative leader who’s made a positive difference in each origination with their employees, their customers and the rest of the community. Quite remarkable.”
Murray thanked the Meijer family for support, generosity and for embracing his passion for the community outside his job. He also thanked his family, particularly his parents.
“My parents gave me — mostly in their actions, but a little bit in their words — the absolute clear obligation to keep your eyes up and to a little bit more distant horizon, and keep your arms out so that you can touch things and make a difference for things that are a little bit broader than whatever the topic in front of you is,” he said.
“I learned that that was true north. And I’ve been trying to follow that ever since. And it’s my immediate family that helps me with that true north.”
Susan Collins, the Joan and Sandford Weill Dean of Public Policy and a professor of public policy and economics at the University of Michigan, interviewed Bernanke onstage, remarking that it was unusual to have “an academic” in one of the most important jobs in the world. Bernanke told of his White House meeting with then-President George W. Bush to discuss the job.
He said Bush asked about his political experience.
“Well, Mr. President, I served two terms on the Montgomery Township, New Jersey, Board of Education.”
“Well, that’s’ really commendable,” Bush told him.
“And he appointed me to the board. There you are,” Bernanke laughed.
“In all honesty though, I found out that being in a policy position like chairman of the Fed has a very substantial political component to it,” he continued. “That political part was a big, big part of my job, and it was something my (experience) had perhaps not fully prepared me for.”
Bernanke’s leadership of the Fed has been widely credited as preventing a collapse of the world’s economy during the financial crisis of the late 2000s, and he was named Time Magazine’s 2009 Person of the Year. Actor Paul Giamatti won the Screen Actors Guild Award for his performance as Bernanke in the 2011 HBO film “Too Big To Fail.”
Kathy Crosby, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids and Club Chair of the Economic Club of Grand Rapids, called the evening a celebration of the economic growth Grand Rapids has been enjoying.
“The economic growth in Grand Rapids this past year has been exciting, and our Economic Club continues to bring thought-provoking and important speakers to the business community to support that growth,” Crosby said.