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New Atlanta Fed president brings fresh background, perspective

By Maria Saporta
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on June 30, 2017

The new president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta — Raphael Bostic — could title his new post after Monty Python’s 1971 comedy film — And Now for Something Completely Different.

Bostic is the first African-American to ever be named as president of one of the 12 regional Fed banks. In addition to that, he also is an openly gay man who is well aware of the symbolism and reality of both positions.

But the differences don’t stop there.

Raphael Bosti

Raphael Bostic in a conference room at the Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Not surprisingly, Bostic is an economist. He got his bachelor’s degree from Harvard University with a combined major in economics and psychology in 1987; and he earned a doctorate in economics from Stanford University in 1995.

But Bostic is a multidimensional professional who has had a diverse background and expertise in how economic policy impacts community development, housing, empowerment and equity.

“I’ve always had a love for urban places and community,” Bostic said in an interview with the Atlanta Business Chronicle on June 22.

Before moving to Atlanta on June 1, Bostic was the Judith and John Bedrosian Chair in Governance and the Public Enterprise at the Sol Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California, a position he held since 2012. He also was at USC from 2001 to 2009.

In 2009, Bostic was asked to join the Obama administration, and he served as assistant secretary for Policy Development and Research for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development until 2012. He was integrally involved in the administration’s efforts to emerge from the Great Recession by working through community rebuilding and neighborhood revitalization.

The other relevant role he had was working for the Federal Reserve Bank board in Washington, D.C. for six years after he graduated from Stanford. There he received a special achievement award for his work on the Community Reinvestment Act.

But what he has not done is spend much time in Atlanta or the South.

“Atlanta is a great adventure,” Bostic said. “I’ve been here three weeks so I’m still learning the landscape of Atlanta. I’m very much interested in making sure that all citizens have real access to opportunities so we all can dream — it’s housing; it’s education, it’s financial literacy.”

Raphael Bostic

Raphael Bostic makes a point during a recent interview (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Although he plans to be on the road getting to know the Sixth Federal Reserve District — a region that encompasses Alabama, Florida, Georgia and portions of Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee, Bostic has already agreed to get involved in a handful of civic roles in Atlanta.

He is joining the Board of Councilors at The Carter Center, where he predecessor Dennis Lockhart also served. And he is planning to become engaged with the Rotary Club of Atlanta, also following in Lockhart’s footsteps. Bostic said he has been told that Rotary is “a good opportunity to get to know the place.”

After getting to know Lockhart, Bostic said: “He’s going to be a great partner for me.”

At the Fed, Lockhart “had a strong reputation of bringing good information to the board. That’s a legacy I’m certainly planning to have going forward.”

But Bostic is well aware that as a gay black executive of a Federal Reserve Bank, there may be some challenges he might face — especially outside of Atlanta.

“My job is to represent the region and the business community. What I look like is somewhat immaterial,” Bostic said, adding he’s excited to visit and learn about communities in his district, including Miami, Orlando, Tampa, Nashville and New Orleans.

As Bostic sees it, his job is to be “focused on economics and economic development.” And those issues are colorblind.

“The Sixth District is large and very diverse. A lot of it is rural. My approach is to take it in chunks,” said Bostic, adding that the region is pegged closely to the U.S. economy and is almost a “mini United States” — a microcosm for the nation. “It gives our institution a real leg up.”

Raphael Bostic

Raphael Bostic answers questions as part of video interview (Photo by Maria Saporta)

When asked about his race and sexual orientation, Bostic answered it in two ways.

“I got hired to do a job. I think I’m qualified. My skin color and orientation is independent of that,” Bostic said. “On another level, it’s a huge deal. When the announcement came out, I got emails from around the country — people saying it gives them hope. That kind of symbolism is real.”

Because so few CEOs in corporate America are black, Bostic said he hopes that through his time as president of the Atlanta Fed “people will see that African Americans can do these jobs and should be given every opportunity to compete for them. The pressure is now you have to deliver.”

When it comes to diversity — race, ethnic, gender and sexual orientation, Bostic said there’s been an evolution — acknowledging his role as the first and only African-American president of a Fed bank.

Because his own time in academia, research, the public sector, community funding and work at the Federal Reserve Bank, Bostic said his “background spans the entire space of what a Fed president does.” He had never imagined he would become a Fed president, but when the call came, “I had to throw my hat in the ring.”

Plus he had had a good experience working for the Fed in the 1990s.

“I was out, but it didn’t impede my progress at all,” Bostic said. “I feel like the Fed has always been somewhat open to diversity. We’ve seen social norms really evolve in significant ways. People’s expectations of what really matters has changed. We have made progress.”

But he went on to add: “There are the unspoken slights that happen to every African-American. There’s progress that needs to happen.”

As an example, he mentioned the growing awareness nationally of police shootings of unarmed black men. The fact that these moments are now being caught on video is helping bring change in communities.

Closer to home, Bostic, who turned 51 in May, and his domestic partner, Jeffrey Taylor, are looking to live intown close to the bank, yet also be close to nature. He is a birdwatcher, and he loves Atlanta’s lushness with its trees, its parks and the Beltline.

“The city is vibrant,” Bostic said. “Atlanta is densifying. We want our city to grow. That’s prosperity. That’s progress. But we have to accommodate our growth so we don’t lose our parks and our (natural) corridors. We have to be thoughtful of how we do it.”

Bostic also is well aware of the role the Atlanta Fed played when it moved from downtown to Midtown in 2001. And Bostic embraced the way the growth has occurred through sound planning.

“I was here 10 years ago, and almost none of this was here,” said Bostic of the development that’s occurred in Midtown. “It’s important to have local buy-in. You do it in ways that’s inclusive. “The Fed is an important anchor in this neighborhood. It became an anchor that said we believe in this neighborhood.”

Raphael Bostic

  • President, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta
  • Age: 51
  • Education: Bachelor’s degree from Harvard University, doctorate in economics from Stanford University.
  • Career: Most recently he was the Judith and John Bedrosian Chair in Governance and the Public Enterprise at the Sol Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California; he also was at USC from 2001 to 2009. From 2009 to 2012, he served as assistant secretary for Policy Development and Research for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
  • Family: Lives with his domestic partner, Jeffrey Taylor.

 

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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