By JEANNINE AVERSA
The Associated Press
Sunday, January 28, 2007; 12:38 PM
WASHINGTON -- Ben Bernanke shoots hoops. Susan Schmidt Bies hits the links and once refereed kids' soccer games. Donald Kohn rides his bike to work on sunny days.
Sound like the pursuits of ordinary people? Yes, but these folks aren't regular Joes. They and their colleagues on the Federal Open Market Committee help determine how much interest you'll pay on mortgages, credit cards and the like.
Although the central bank has become more open over the years, it is still one of the most mysterious Washington institutions. So who are the people who hold such power over your pocketbook?
Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, traces his interest in economics to some less-than-wonky summer jobs after high school and in college.
After graduating from high school, Bernanke helped build Saint Eugene hospital in his hometown of Dillon, S.C. "I remember that, on the first day I came home from the construction site that summer, I was too tired to eat and I fell asleep in my chair," he says.
During the summers of his college years, he waited tables six days a week at South of the Border.
"I remember the fellow construction worker who wanted to become foreman someday and a waitress who was saving to go to college," he says. "I was impressed by these experiences, and I think they were an important reason I went into economics, which a great economist once called the study of people in the ordinary business of life."
Now approaching his first anniversary as Fed chairman, Bernanke, 53, is trying to create a more democratic central bank by gently shifting the spotlight of monetary policymaking to the institution rather than its chairman.
Fittingly, Bernanke is not one to seal himself in his stately Fed office. Sometimes, he'll eat lunch in the Fed's cafeteria, mingling with staff. He also can be spotted on occasion playing basketball with staff or shooting hoops with whomever is around on the half-court in the Fed's basement. During baseball season, he follows the Washington Nationals.
Timothy Geithner attended junior high in India and high school in Thailand.
In some ways, those globe-trotting years helped to prepare him for his present job as the No. 2 person on the FOMC and president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Geithner, 45, brings to the Fed a keen understanding of international economics and a good appreciation of other cultures. He also has lived in East Africa, China and Japan. And, he has studied Japanese and Chinese.
One of Geithner's most important jobs as head of the New York bank is to act as a crisis manager if financial turmoil were to arise in the United States or abroad.
When he worked at the Treasury Department during the Clinton administration, Geithner dealt with international financial crises and played a major role in negotiating assistance packages for South Korea and Brazil.
A change of heart in her senior year of college put Bies on the career path that eventually would land her at the Federal Reserve.
Bies once pictured her professional life unfolding in the classroom _ not the Fed boardroom.
She planned to be a high school social studies teacher and worked as a student teacher for junior and senior high school students in her home town of Buffalo, N.Y. But she decided to change direction and moved to Chicago. She went on to earn a master's and a doctorate _ both in economics _ from Northwestern University.
Bies, 59, took the job as Fed governor in 2001, three months after the terror attacks on New York and Washington. With her expertise in banking and risk management, Bies has played a key role in shaping regulatory policy at the Fed, which is responsible for making sure the nation's financial system remains sound. That's also a key ingredient to the country's economic health.
When her two sons _ now adults _ played youth soccer in Tennessee, Bies was a licensed referee. She also played soccer herself in an adult league.
These days, however, Bies is more likely to be found golfing or gardening.
When the weather is nice, Kohn enjoys riding his bicycle to work, pedaling across a bridge over the Potomac River and making his way to downtown Washington, D.C., and the Federal Reserve's marble headquarters.
In his spare time, Kohn also likes sailing _ a passion he shares with a few of his other central bank colleagues.
Kohn, 64, also is proud to point out that he has three grandchildren.
As the Fed's vice chairman, Kohn is the second-highest ranking person on the Federal Reserve's Board of Governors. With more than three decades of Fed experience under his belt, Kohn enjoys a close working relationship with the board's economists and researchers. He is viewed as an important intellectual voice on the Fed and was a confidant and sounding board for former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan.
Kevin Warsh played varsity tennis in high school, a passion that led him to Stanford University.
At Stanford, Warsh met his future wife Jane Lauder, the granddaughter of cosmetic pioneer Estee Lauder. He also came to know university provost Condoleezza Rice, who now is secretary of state.
Warsh, 36, is the youngest governor in Fed history.
He brings to the table Wall Street experience, which is considered a valuable contribution when setting interest-rate policy. Warsh worked for Morgan Stanley & Co. in mergers and acquisitions and eventually became a vice president at the company.
He took a job in the Bush White House in 2002, advising the president on economic matters, especially those related to financial markets, securities, banking and insurance.
Randall Kroszner has come a long way since his first job _ as a bank teller.
The 44-year old former economics professor taught money and banking at the University of Chicago, his professional home before becoming a Fed governor.
He showed an early interest in money and banking: when he was young, he collected coins.
These days, Kroszner takes pleasure in classical music. After years of violin and piano lessons, he says he realized "I was much better at listening than playing."
Kroszner also has a special fondness for art, contemporary photography and architecture. He once lived in a building in Chicago designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, considered a pioneer of modern architecture.
An avid reader of fiction, Herman Melville's "Moby-Dick" is perhaps his favorite work. Among his favorite living writers: V.S. Naipaul and J.M. Coetzee.
As a member of President Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, Kroszner played a key role in helping the administration shape policy to respond to the wave of corporate accounting scandals that rocked Wall Street. Kroszner's areas of research include corporate governance, conflicts of interest at financial firms and international financial crises.
Whether on land or sea, Frederic Mishkin is at home.
The Fed governor, 56, likes cutting through the water on his small sailboat, which is moored on the Hudson River. He also works up a sweat cross-country skiing, bicycling and roller blading.
Mishkin brings sterling academic credentials to the Fed job.
An author of more than 15 books, Mishkin's academic research has focused on how monetary policy affects financial markets and the economy at large. He has taught at the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, Princeton University and Columbia University.
Michael Moskow, president Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, enjoys a good game of golf or tennis.
A former teacher, business executive and U.S. government official who once served as a deputy trade chief, Moskow views economic and monetary policy through many lenses.
After 13 years at the bank helm, Moskow, 69, will be stepping down on Aug. 31. "I look forward to staying active and engaged in a number of different civic and professional pursuits," he says.
Cathy Minehan likes taking journeys into the past when reading books about significant historical figures or periods of time.
The president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston jogs and golfs. She also is a fan of family get-togethers.
A veteran of the Federal Reserve system, Minehan, 59, began her Fed career in 1968 at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, where she once worked as a bank examiner and an analyst.
Minehan is known as an operations expert with an insider's knowledge of the nuts and bolts workings of the Fed system. She plans to retire this year, although an exact date has not been set. "At this point in my life ... I have decided that the time is right to move on in the interests of broadening and diversifying my career," she says.
Thomas Hoenig, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, is another book lover, who especially enjoys digging into histories and biographies.
Hoenig, 60, started out at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City in 1973 as an economist in the banking supervision area. Over the years, he ascended the career ladder, becoming a vice president in 1981 and a senior vice president in 1986.
As head of the regional bank, Hoenig hosts an annual Fed conference that draws a who's who participant list of economic and financial luminaries.
William Poole is a renaissance man.
The president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis is not only an economist and a respected academic, he also is a sailor, a camper, a bicyclist and a carpenter/fixer of things.
Poole, 69, likes to sail his 17-foot-long Thistle. He and his wife, Geraldine, who also is an avid sailor, have chartered sailboats and cruised the Chesapeake Bay and elsewhere.
Another hobby: "non-roughing it camping," as Poole calls it. The Pooles like hitching up their "pop-up" trailer, or camper, and driving West or anywhere for that matter. "I think it is a lot more fun than staying in a motel," he says.
The Pooles also like riding on their tandem bike, especially along the scenic, 225-mile long Katy Trail in Missouri.
At home, Poole sometimes putters in his woodworking shop. Over the years, he has fixed plenty of things and also has built tables, shelves and small items for his boat.
He is fond of gadgets, especially a portable GPS device that has a satellite-delivered weather service, which can track storms and other conditions.
Years of sailing and competitive racing have left Poole with a philosophy that can be applied to his job as a Fed policymaker: Have a plan but be prepared to shift gears if the weather _ or economic conditions _ warrant.
"If you are a slave to your instruments, you may find yourself in trouble. You have to keep your eyes open as well," he says.
When extra help is needed, Poole can always peer into a crystal ball perched on his desk at work. The crystal ball rests on a wooden stand, crafted by one of his sons.