One could say Steve Steinour likes his fishing the way he likes his business days: full of constant action.
A smile spreads across his face when he’s asked about a recent catch. While fly fishing with his son, a favorite pastime, Steinour reeled in two bluegills, caught the only way he wants to fish: constantly casting his line, tricking fish into believing that the tie is a fly fleeing the water.
“I have to be in motion,” he explains. “Fly fishing works for me; regular [fishing] does not.”
That desire for action equips Steinour well for his job as chairman, president, and CEO of Huntington Bancshares Incorporated.
“That’s one of the things I like about my role: I generally am doing something different every day,” he says.
One recent Monday, he met with a bipartisan policy group, prepared for an upcoming board meeting, and celebrated a Huntington colleague’s 36-year career. That Friday, Steinour noted, he would attend an all-day set of finance meetings.
Steinour’s level of activity inside and out of Huntington’s Columbus headquarters actually led him to doubt if he was the right candidate when he was approached about serving on the Cleveland Fed’s board of directors.
“Actually, I suggested that they could find better people to serve on the board, and I believe that,” Steinour says. “Part of the challenge I have is the amount of activity I’m committed to. But I also recognize that for the good of our society, the strength of the Federal Reserve is important.”
“Monetary policy is a primary tool to the overall economic growth and prosperity of this country,” he continues. So in January, Steinour became a director.
Steinour grew up in Gettysburg, one of five children. He was a goal-oriented child: an Eagle Scout, captain of the football team, an amateur radio operator. He is his family’s first banker.
Banking was not something Steinour initially planned to do; rather, he calls it an unexpected turn of sorts.
“I thought I was going to law school, but I met my wife, Patti,” he says. “She lived in Boston. I had to chase her to Boston.”
And while he could have attended law school there, he had student loan debt (from studying economics and accounting at Gettysburg College) and other commitments. Instead, he landed at a bank.
Most people don’t realize how much strong banks contribute to the success and growth of the communities they serve, Steinour says.
“It’s important that banks are at the intersection of commerce,” he asserts. “The flow of funds, whether from individuals or companies, our being able to regenerate that allows and drives growth to occur.”
Huntington operates branches in eight states (Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Wisconsin) and counts total assets of $101 billion. Its employees serve on hundreds of boards across that territory, Steinour says.
“I think the geographic coverage of Huntington gives me some insights into the different markets in Ohio and elsewhere that are of interest to the district,” he says, referring to the Fourth Federal Reserve District, the region served by the Cleveland Fed.
“This district is very important to the economy as a whole,” he adds later. “We have a lot of GDP [gross domestic product]; it’s a source of growth for the US. Think about the long-term, low-cost gas [here], the abundant water. That’s a huge amount of potential.”
Huntington serves consumers and small and medium-sized enterprises, and those customers also inform the insights Steinour shares during board of directors meetings.
“I tend to spend a lot of time in the field versus in the office with our customers in different markets,” he says. “That gives me some purview as to how businesses are doing.”
As of mid-2017, businesses appeared “positively biased,” Steinour shares. He means they’re optimistic, but also cautious, restrained a bit by pending policy changes. That may help to explain why commercial loan growth hasn’t been what some expected this year, he notes.
The Cleveland Fed intentionally draws from various industries for its board of directors, making it a more diverse group than other boards on which Steinour serves. It’s also more active, involving a biweekly call and meetings at which every director weighs in with his or her view of the economy.
Even a banker with firsthand knowledge of the Federal Reserve’s supervision and regulation of the banking system had something to learn when he joined the board. (To be clear, no directors are involved in Reserve Banks’ supervision of financial institutions.) For example, Steinour hadn’t connected previously with the Cleveland Fed’s Research Department. He also says he’s learned that the Fed isn’t centrally driven, but rather gathers regional insights and channels those to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System in Washington DC.
“The Fed is a complex organization, which I didn’t fully appreciate,” Steinour says. “The more insight that comes through those efforts and undertakings, the better informed policy will be. The community needs are vast. You can lose sight of communities in need. Not everybody is participating evenly in the economic upswing in recent years. Being purposeful in engaging with people can create better outcomes for them. I really prize that and appreciate that the Cleveland Fed has such a commitment.”
Steinour has already come to admire those with whom he serves.
“As I’m getting to know them, I see it’s a group that will challenge each other, which I like,” he says. “That leads to more robust conversation and frankly the ability to have some fun.”
The Cleveland Fed, one of the 12 Reserve Banks of the Federal Reserve System, is overseen operationally and informed by a board of directors, whose members regularly share industry trends and geographic perspectives that help the Federal Reserve understand how various business sectors and communities are experiencing the economy. These regional insights, in turn, help inform national monetary policymaking. The Cleveland Fed’s directors come from various backgrounds and experiences and hail from the district the Bank serves, which comprises Ohio, western Pennsylvania, the northern panhandle of West Virginia, and eastern Kentucky.
Read all 9 directors’ professional bios here.