The last time the top leadership of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago changed hands, the Great Recession was under way. This time, there’s a global pandemic.
But if the bank emerges as solidly from the pandemic as it did from the recession, it might be fair to say the board of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago has mastered the skill of picking a CEO who can handle tough times and make positive changes along the way.
On January 1, 2021, Michael A. Ericson is set to succeed Matthew R. Feldman as president and CEO of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago.
Ericson, 48, currently is executive vice president and chief operating officer of the bank. He has served in a variety of executive roles with the institution since 2005.
Feldman, 67, has been with the bank since 2003, and became president and CEO in 2008.
Feldman was credited by the bank’s chairman, John K. Reinke, who also serves as the chair of the board of directors at The Stephenson National Bank & Trust in Marinette, with transforming the institution to be more mission-driven, focusing on the needs of its members in Wisconsin and Illinois.
“There are a lot of descriptors when I think about Matt Feldman, and some of the adjectives that come to mind are iconic, intelligent, caring, creative, and principled,” said Reinke. “He has really had strong leadership for our bank and led us through some very difficult times at the beginning of his career. The Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago is really stronger than it’s ever been in terms of net worth and in terms of services to our members.”
The Federal Home Loan Bank System was created by the U.S. government in 1932 to make sure funds would be available to banks for lending to home buyers and includes 11 regional banks across the nation. The Chicago bank’s members include banks, thrifts, credit unions, insurance companies, and community development financial institutions.
Reinke said when the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago board was seeking a successor for Feldman, it saw similar leadership characteristics in Ericson.
“The Federal Home Loan Bank System is a unique system and each individual bank is a cooperative bank,” Reinke said. “We felt that having someone who would know the internal workings of the system would be very important. And Michael has been with the bank, even prior to Matt’s tenure as CEO. So, he has the inside knowledge, but he also has the respect of the staff.”
Ericson said Feldman has been “a tremendous leader for the bank during his tenure.” Ericson will continue in the direction Feldman has taken and plans to emulate Feldman’s strengths including empathy, listening to various points of view, and giving the executive team freedom to carry out the bank’s vision.
“He has accomplished many great things during his time at the bank,” Ericson said of Feldman. “One of the biggest accomplishments was the turnaround of the culture of the bank to be member focused. And we’re centered around diversity, equity and inclusion, and Matt has also been an excellent communicator in sharing his vision with staff and with members.”
Ericson, who grew up in Colorado but has worked in California, Washington D.C., and New York in addition to Chicago, said business at the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago is driven by the activities and needs of its members, such as the mortgage refinancing boom spurred by historically low interest rates.
“We have seen mortgage volumes in our Mortgage Partnership Finance® Program increase significantly, both for loans that we’ve purchased on our balance sheet, as well as loans that we purchase and then sell to Fannie Mae,” Ericson said.
Ericson said among the keys to the bank’s success is “to ensure that members have an enhanced member experience.”
“So, when you think about member experience, we have to be easy to use, simple to borrow from and transact with,” he said.
Asked what he expects to be the toughest part of the job, Ericson said it’s likely what many CEOs are faced with – ambiguity and being comfortable dealing with it.
“There are never any easy answers that come with the role, but you have to be able to read the situations – and you’re faced with numerous situations – and take in all the available facts and make decisions around them to move the institution forward. I think that’s the biggest challenge any CEO is dealing with.”
The best advice he’s received in his career also revolves around decision-making.
“Some of the best advice I’ve been given was to not be scared to take chances,” Ericson said. “And as you go through life and go through a career, opportunities will come and present themselves. It’s easy to make the decision not to change or to stay on the path that you’re on. But it takes courage to make decisions, make difficult choices, take chances. And when those opportunities arise, I think it’s important to assess the situation and take chances.”
He added: “In a leadership role you have to be able to make decisions, otherwise the institution will languish. And it’s more important to make the decision, and then if you have to course-correct afterwards, course-correct afterwards.”
When Ericson isn’t working, he enjoys time with his wife and two children, playing golf or going skiing with them back in Colorado.
“That’s lots of fun for me,” he said.
His favorite vacation spots include the Kohler resort in Wisconsin and the Illinois community of Galena, near the Mississippi River.
As Feldman prepares for retirement, he looks back with a sense of accomplishment during his time at the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago.
“The highlight of my career literally has been participating in the complete rebuilding of this bank to have a laser-sharp focus on our members and be financially strong enough to provide support for them in many, many different ways,” Feldman said. “But an equally meaningful highlight to me has been the ability to work with the most outstanding team of professionals, both in the bank and on the board, that I have ever had the opportunity to work with.”
Feldman said he’s leaving his options open for what the next chapter of his life will hold.
He is “passionately committed to working toward social justice and racial equity,” and will continue that effort after he leaves the bank. He also would like to serve on a corporate or institutional board of directors that could use the skills he has developed over his career.
“And then I plan on spending a reasonable amount – if not even an unreasonable amount – of my time at our house in southeastern Wisconsin, where I’m going to improve my boating and sailing skills rather dramatically,” Feldman said.
Paul Gores is a journalist who covered business news for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for 20 years. Have a story idea? Contact him at email@example.com.
“Mortgage Partnership Finance” is a registered trademark of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago.