The Law School Magazine  ·  Spring 2011 : Alumni Profiles

William Isaac ’69 Chairman of the Board at Fifth Third Bancorp

By - Spring 2011
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If there was a memo explaining to William Isaac ’69 that he could start to slow down a bit at this stage in his career, he never received it.

Isaac, who chaired the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation during the volatile years of 1981 through 1985, was recently named the new chairman of Fifth Third Bancorp’s Board of Directors, published his first book this summer, and continues to chair the global financial services group of a leading financial consulting firm. In addition to being a regular columnist for The American Banker, Forbes and CNBC, Isaac serves on boards of several other businesses and nonprofit organizations. In addition, he has two grown children and two younger ones: ages 9 and 7.

“I’m at a stage in my life when I wouldn’t do anything that I didn’t enjoy,” he said. “I want to have a full and active life as long as I can. I have young children and they keep me active. I can’t see any need to sit back in a rocking chair and maybe play two or three games of tennis a week. That’s just not me.”

Isaac had done consulting work for Fifth Third Bank several times over the past eight years. When the company decided to separate its chief executive and chairman roles, it contacted Isaac to provide a list of people who he felt could fill the board chairman role. After a few months of searching, Fifth Third returned to Isaac and asked if he would consider the role.

“I told them I would be happy to talk about it,” Isaac said. “It ended up working for them and it worked for me. They are a good group of people and they know me.”

The Cincinnati-based bank operates in 12 states and includes more than 1,309 full-service locations. Isaac will chair the 14-person board and he said that he will travel to Ohio from his Sarasota, Fla., home six or seven times a year for work specific to the new position.

Isaac’s knowledge of banking regulations will obviously pay dividends in the Fifth Third chairmanship, and it certainly allowed him to publish his first book, Senseless Panic: How Washington Failed America. In the book, Isaac details the federal policies and governmental actions that he says almost led to the shutdown of the world’s financial systems.

“I was so upset by the way that the government mishandled the situation,” Isaac said. “I was upset enough that it inspired me to sit down and write this book.”

Isaac said that, by comparison, the banking and savings and loan crises of the 1980s were far more tumultuous than the recent situation. “We handled over 3,000 bank and thrift failures in the 1980s, including many of the largest in the country,” Isaac explained, “without the public losing confidence in the system and panicking.”  Despite less severe conditions this time around, the volatility and turmoil in the financial markets was much more severe, he said.

“How do we account for how this got so far out of control? That’s the question that I answer in the book,” he said.

The hundreds of articles he has written over the years on the banking industry allowed him to pen a book that was not highly technical. “I wasn’t writing it for someone who has spent their entire life in the banking industry,” he said. “The person I had in mind when I was writing was a typical member of Congress.”

Isaac was called upon by members of Congress, the national media, and others, to dissect the 2008 financial crisis. And through his work with a global consulting firm, Isaac has continued help financial services organizations with his insight.

In 1986, Isaac founded the Secura Group, which was acquired by LECG, LLC in 2007. The company consults financial institutions on a variety of issues, including financial advisory, strategic planning, regulatory counseling, and risk management. Isaac is currently the chairman of global financial services of LECG.

In addition to his work at LECG, Isaac also is also chairman of his family’s various real estate development companies. He is also busy with a number of other boards, organizations, and nonprofits. He is a founding member of the American Bankers Council. He is on the Board of Directors for the BankCap Investment Fund, which is equity firm that invests in the financial services sector. Until early 2010, when the company was sold, he was lead director of the MPS Group, a leading provider of staffing, consulting, and solutions in a variety of fields. He is on the Board of Directors for The Ohio State University Foundation, Ringling College of Art in Sarasota, the Out-of-Door Academy in Sarasota, and he served for a number of years on the board of the Miami University Foundation (his undergraduate alma mater).

Isaac continues to extend his generosity to the Moritz College of Law as well. He has made a substantial planned gift that will be presented to the Moritz College of Law in the future. He said that gift is intended to help “worthy students with financial needs” make their way through law school.

That gift and several others that Isaac has made since he graduated from the law school were easy decisions for many reasons, he said. “I had a great education there,” he explained. “And after my first year, I was given scholarships and had a free ride the next two years. I just felt a real strong need and desire to repay the school in some way.”

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