Jerome Hayden "Jay" Powell (born February 4, 1953) is the 16th Chair of the Federal Reserve, serving in that office since February 2018. He was nominated to the Fed Chair position by President Donald Trump, and confirmed by the United States Senate.
Powell earned a degree in politics from Princeton University in 1975 and a Juris Doctor from Georgetown University Law Center in 1979. He moved to investment banking in 1984, and has since worked for several financial institutions. He briefly served as Under Secretary of the Treasury for Domestic Finance under President George H. W. Bush in 1992. More recently, he was a visiting scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center from 2010 to 2012. He has served as a member of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors since 2012.
Powell was born on February 4, 1953, in Washington, D.C., as one of six children to Patricia (née Hayden; 1926–2010) and Jerome Powell (1921–2007), a lawyer in private practice. His maternal grandfather, James J. Hayden, was Dean of the Columbus School of Law at Catholic University of America and later a lecturer at Georgetown Law School. He has five siblings: Susan, Matthew, Tia, Libby, and Monica.
In 1972, Powell graduated from Georgetown Preparatory School, a Jesuit university-preparatory school. He received a Bachelor of Arts in politics from Princeton University in 1975, where his senior thesis was titled "South Africa: Forces for Change." In 1975–76, he spent a year as a legislative assistant to Pennsylvania Senator Richard Schweiker (R).
Powell earned a Juris Doctor degree from Georgetown University Law Center in 1979, where he was editor-in-chief of the Georgetown Law Journal.
In 1979, Powell moved to New York City and became a clerk to Judge Ellsworth Van Graafeiland of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. From 1981 to 1983, Powell was a lawyer with Davis Polk & Wardwell, and from 1983 to 1984, he worked at the firm of Werbel & McMillen.
From 1984 to 1990, Powell worked at Dillon, Read & Co., an investment bank, where he concentrated on financing, merchant banking, and mergers and acquisitions, rising to the position of vice president.
Between 1990 and 1993, Powell worked in the United States Department of the Treasury, at which time Nicholas F. Brady, the former chairman of Dillon, Read & Co., was the United States Secretary of the Treasury. In 1992, Powell became the Under Secretary of the Treasury for Domestic Finance after being nominated by George H. W. Bush. During his stint at the Treasury, Powell oversaw the investigation and sanctioning of Salomon Brothers after one of its traders submitted false bids for a United States Treasury security. Powell was also involved in the negotiations that made Warren Buffett the chairman of Salomon.
In 1993, Powell began working as a managing director for Bankers Trust, but he quit in 1995 after the bank got into trouble when several customers suffered large losses due to derivatives. He then went back to work for Dillon, Read & Co.
From 1997 to 2005, Powell was a partner at The Carlyle Group, where he founded and led the Industrial Group within the Carlyle U.S. Buyout Fund.
After leaving Carlyle, Powell founded Severn Capital Partners, a private investment firm focused on specialty finance and opportunistic investments in the industrial sector.
In 2008, Powell became a managing partner of the Global Environment Fund, a private equity and venture capital firm that invests in sustainable energy.
Between 2010 and 2012, Powell was a visiting scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a think tank in Washington, D.C., where he worked on getting Congress to raise the United States debt ceiling during the United States debt-ceiling crisis of 2011. Powell presented the implications to the economy and interest rates of a default or a delay in raising the debt ceiling. He worked for a salary of $1 per year.
Federal Reserve Board of Governors
In December 2011, along with Jeremy C. Stein, Powell was nominated to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors by President Barack Obama. The nomination included two people to help garner bipartisan support for both nominees since Stein's nomination had previously been filibustered. Powell's nomination was the first time that a president nominated a member of the opposition party for such a position since 1988. He took office on May 25, 2012, to fill the unexpired term of Frederic Mishkin, who resigned. In January 2014, he was nominated for another term, and, in June 2014, he was confirmed by the United States Senate in a 67-24 vote for a 14-year term ending January 31, 2028.
In 2013, Powell made a speech regarding financial regulation and ending "too big to fail". In April 2017, he took over oversight of the "too big to fail" banks.
Chair of the Federal Reserve
On November 2, 2017, President Trump nominated Powell to serve as the Chair of the Federal Reserve.
On December 5, 2017, the Senate Banking Committee approved Powell's nomination to be Chair in a 22–1 vote, with Senator Elizabeth Warren casting the lone dissenting vote. His nomination was confirmed by the Senate on January 23, 2018 by an 84–13 vote. Powell assumed office as Chair on February 5, 2018.
Trump subsequently complained about the Fed raising interest rates and in 2018 said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that he "maybe" regretted nominating Powell, complaining that the Fed chairman "almost looks like he’s happy raising interest rates." Powell has described the Fed's role as nonpartisan and apolitical.
In June 2019, Trump criticized Powell, saying: "Here's a guy, nobody ever heard of him before. And now, I made him and he wants to show how tough he is ... He's not doing a good job." Trump called the interest rate increase and the reduction of bond-buying quantitative easing "insane".
In July 2019, when asked by House Financial Services Committee Chair Maxine Waters about the controversy, Chairman Powell said he would not stand down if President Trump attempted to remove him from his current post. He has also stated that it is the Congress which has the authority for oversight of the central bank, and that the board chair can only be removed for good cause.
A survey of 30 economists in March 2017 noted that Powell was slightly more of a monetary dove than the average member of the Board of Governors. However, The Bloomberg Intelligence Fed Spectrometer rated Powell as neutral (i.e., neither a hawk nor a dove). Powell has been a skeptic of round 3 of quantitative easing, initiated in 2012, although he did vote in favor of implementation. During the COVID-19 crisis, the Federal Reserve Bank's balance sheet expanded by over 100% and in an unprecedented move, the Federal Reserve Bank went to purchase into high yield bonds.
Powell "appears to largely support" the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, although he has stated that "we can do it more efficiently". In an October 2017 speech, Powell stated that higher capital and liquidity requirements and stress tests have made the financial system safer and must be preserved. However, he also stated that the Volcker Rule should be re-written to exclude smaller banks.
Housing finance reform
In a July 2017 speech, Powell said that in regard to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac the status quo is "unacceptable" and that the current situation "may feel comfortable, but it is also unsustainable". He warned that "the next few years may present our last best chance" to "address the ultimate status of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac" and avoid "repeating the mistakes of the past". Powell expressed concerns that, in the current situation, the government is responsible for mortgage defaults and that lending standards were too rigid, noting that these can be solved by encouraging "ample amounts of private capital to support housing finance activities".
Criticism from President Trump
Powell has faced substantial and repeated criticism from Trump, who stated that he considers Powell an "enemy equivalent to or worse" than China's leader Xi Jinping. He additionally stated that Powell had a "horrendous lack of vision" and "I disagree with him entirely".
Trump criticized Powell for not massively lowering federal interest rates and instituting quantitative easing. In August 2019, he criticized Powell for having "raised interest rates too fast, too furious". After the first emergency cut since the 2008 financial crisis on 3 March 2020, Trump continued to push for "more easing and cutting", followed by more criticism on 10 March 2020 tweeting about "Our pathetic, slow moving Federal Reserve, headed by Jay Powell".
In 1985, Powell married Elissa Leonard. They have three children and live in Chevy Chase Village, Maryland, where Elissa is chair of the board of managers of the village. In 2010, Powell was on the board of governors of Chevy Chase Club, a country club.
Based on public filings, Powell's net worth is estimated to be as little as $19.7 million and as much as $55 million. He is the wealthiest member of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors.
Powell has served on the boards of charitable and educational institutions including DC Prep, a public charter school, the Bendheim Center for Finance at Princeton University, and The Nature Conservancy. He was also a founder of the Center City Consortium, a group of 16 parochial schools in the poorest areas of Washington, D.C.
Powell is a registered Republican.