So, that's what Jerome Powell does, but just who is this Washington big shot? Read on to discover nine things you probably don't know about the Federal Reserve chief.

1. He's not an economist

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Powell holds a law degree, not a Ph.D. in economics.

Powell is the first Fed chairman in decades who doesn't have a Ph.D. in economics. Instead, the Washington, D.C., native earned a law degree from Georgetown University and was editor-in-chief of the Georgetown Law Journal.

After working as an attorney in New York, he moved over to investment banking in 1984.

During a 2019 appearance before the Economic Club of Washington, Powell said no one should worry about his academic credentials, because he's done just fine without an economics degree.

"I've had a lot of time to learn monetary economics. You really have to do that if you’re going to serve at the [Federal Reserve] Board and you’re not a Ph.D. economist," he said. "You’ve very much got to invest in learning it. And of course, I’ve done that. But I mean, my career — part of my career is doing different things and learning different things."

2. He's rich

Man holding Money in hand at Black Background, Man receive a lot Money from Trading, Business Success Concept.
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Powell is the wealthiest Fed chairman in more than 70 years.

His most recent financial disclosure form pegged Powell's net worth at up to $55 million. He built up a nice fortune during his time at the private equity and asset management firm The Carlyle Group, where he was a partner from 1997 through 2005.

By comparison Powell's predecessor, Janet Yellen, listed assets worth up to a mere $13 million on her last federal disclosure document.

Powell is the wealthiest Fed boss since Marriner Eccles, according to an analysis done by The Washington Post. Eccles was a banker who sat in the chair in the 1930s and '40s, and his name is on the Fed's iconic Eccles Building a few blocks west of the White House in Washington.

3. He's not the highest-paid person at the Fed

Federal Reserve Building, Washington DC, USA.
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Some people working at the Fed building in Washington earn more than the chairman.

Powell may be the top dog at the Federal Reserve, but he's not the top earner.

His salary is set by Congress, and he's currently paid $203,500 a year. Other members of the Fed board, including the vice chair, earn $183,100.

But the central bank's website shows that annual salaries there range from $31,200 all the way up to $255,000 per year. Maybe it's time for Powell to ask for a raise?

In 2014, an investigation by Reuters found that then-Fed Chair Yellen made less than at least 113 staffers at Fed headquarters (Fedquarters?) in Washington, including an inspector general who at the time was earning $312,000 annually.

4. He once took a job that paid $1 a year

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After his years in high finance, Powell took a job that paid just a dollar a year.

A few years after leaving The Carlyle Group, Powell swapped the high-paying world of high finance for a position that came with a salary of just $1 a year.

From 2010 and 2012, he was a visiting scholar at a Washington, D.C., think tank called the Bipartisan Policy Center, which has given itself the tough task of trying to get America's two major parties to agree on things.

Powell made a splash with the center when he authored a 2011 study warning Congress to raise the federal debt limit and allow the government to borrow more money — or risk doing damage to the U.S. economy and the world's financial system.

Lawmakers made an 11th-hour deal to raise the debt ceiling, and Powell's arguments attracted enough attention to get him nominated to serve on the Fed board starting in 2012. He was elevated to chairman in February 2018.

5. Don't call him 'Jerry'

San Francisco, California / United States - June 21 2019 - Comedian Jerry Seinfeld performs at Clusterfest
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The nickname "Jerry" is fine for Jerome Allen Seinfeld, but not Powell.

The Fed chairman was born Jerome Hayden Powell on Feb. 4, 1953 — but don't assume that he likes to be addressed as "Jerry" instead of his formal first name.

Unlike like Jerome Seinfeld (yeah, that's the comedian's real name), Powell prefers "Jay" to Jerry.

Powell has been called other things, including "Mr. Ordinary" by The Wall Street Journal, and "boring" by the New York financial crowd. But he does have a casual side that goes beyond wanting to be known by his three-letter nickname.

He enjoys playing golf and the guitar, and the Journal reported in 2017 that Powell led an effort at the Fed to relax the institution's dress code for summers.

6. He has a nifty stupid human trick

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Colleagues are amazed by Powell's ability to repeat sentences backwards.

Maybe it wouldn't be enough to land him on "America's Got Talent," but Powell does have a trick that's a hit at parties and in the halls of the Fed.

Or, as Powell might say: "Fed the of halls the in and parties at hit a that's trick a have does Powell but "Talent Got America's" on him land to enough be wouldn't it maybe."

The Times of London reports young staff members at the central bank have been awestruck by Powell's ability to repeat their sentences backwards.

They say it shows just how very smart the guy is. Thankfully, he hasn't tried to use his odd skill when giving official Fed statements — which are often convoluted enough.

7. He has been known to bicycle to work

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His work has him watching business cycles and whether the economy is growing, going into a recession, or just sitting there.

During his off hours, Powell fancies a different kind of cycling. The Federal Reserve boss likes to ride around on a bicycle.

In his pre-chairman days at the Fed, he was known to commute on his bike from his home in Chevy Chase, Maryland, down to the central bank building on Constitution Avenue in Washington.

And, before you ask — yes, it sounds like he did have a place to shower at the office after coming in off the road. The Fed's promotional materials for job candidates say the building has an "on-site fitness center."

8. He's a nice guy

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Powell once helped a family make their connection at Washington National.

So what if people say Powell isn't very exciting? Though some compelling personalities have previously sat in that chair, the head of the Federal Reserve isn't supposed to be a showboat.

Maybe what's key about Powell is his reputation for being a decent human being.

In its 2017 profile referenced earlier, The Wall Street Journal included a brief anecdote about Powell from Matthew McCormick, a veteran federal government economist.

McCormick recalled how he once saw the man hustling his way through Reagan National Airport outside Washington carrying a random family's car seat and luggage — to help them make their connecting flight.

9. His best advice is to follow his example

Tired young African man using laptop while sitting at the table on a sunny morning.Concept of people working hard home.Blurred background,flare effect
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Jerome Powell once advised a young man to work hard and keep his head down.

What's Jerome Powell's secret to success? By this point, it should be obvious.

It's to be your own version of Mr. (or Ms.) Ordinary. When a business school student asked for career advice years ago, Powell told him to work hard and maintain a low profile.

The future Federal Reserve bigwig said it's surprising "how many otherwise competent people self-sabotage with poor behavior," the former student, Sean Gillispie, told the Journal.

That's also great advice for consumers, whom the Fed tries to protect as part of its mission. Work hard to maintain a good credit score, don't behave irresponsibly with credit cards, pay your mortgage and other loans on time — and you'll have a successful financial life.

About the Author

Doug Whiteman

Doug Whiteman


Doug Whiteman is the editor-in-chief of MoneyWise. He has been quoted by The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and and has been interviewed on Fox Business, CBS Radio and the syndicated TV show "First Business."

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