Bill Seidman, who helped end last banking crisis, dies at 88

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The financial and economic worlds lost a giant Wednesday when word came that Former FDIC Chairman and Resolution Trust Corporation Chairman L. William "Bill" Seidman passed away after a brief illness, CNBC reported. He was 88.

Seidman, who served as President Gerald R. Ford's Assistant for Economic Affairs from 1974 to 1977, rose to national prominence as a result of his deft, diplomatic and painstaking management of the nation's last banking crisis, the 1985-1991 savings and loan debacle, as head of the Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC).

While heading the RTC, Seidman supervised the mammoth, 8,000-employee agency that purchased and then re-sold more than $400 billion in assets -- much of it residential real estate -- from failed S&Ls. Up until the current financial crisis, the RTC was the largest, bank-related intervention and real estate stabilization program in federal history.

A master at banking, master at diplomacy

Seidman's key strengths were his mastery of banking, his non-partisan outlook and his ability to take his work seriously without taking himself too seriously. His quick wit, and knack for candidly -- but somehow pleasantly -- stating difficult economic realities won praise from Congressional lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and from people across the financial and banking spectrum.

It is perhaps that last quality that more than anything separated Seidman from the classic, dour "Wall Street titan" persona that the financial world so regularly seems to attract. Seidman would say something like, "Look, the Arizona condo market is a mess, and it's going to stay a mess for another year, but if we take over in a responsible way the thrifts that need to be consolidated, we'll get out of this mess, sooner rather than later'" and you'd immediately feel better.

Many investors may also know Seidman from his hundreds of appearances on CNBC, during his popular "Seidman Says" segment, and from his numerous other interviews. Just recently, at the onset of the financial crisis, CNBC had also introduced a blog authored by Seidman.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Mr. Seidman twice, in 2001 while serving as the managing editor of the financial news web sites WallStreetItalia.com and WallStreetEurope.com, and once at a banking conference in 2003.

As I recall, the first conversation occurred during a banking news story that broke late in the afternoon, for which we were seeking sector reaction. A call was placed to Seidman by one of my afternoon market reporters, who got Seidman's secretary or personal assistant. As is typical in the news biz, the reporter then called other sources, in case Seidman did not call back. But not more than five minutes later, Seidman called, and the call was put through to me. Although WallStreetItalia.com was a just a fledgling financial news website at that time, Seidman was generous with his time and encouraged us to call back whenever other big banking sector news broke. I was impressed by the fact that it didn't matter to him that we weren't The Wall Street Journal or The Financial Times.

Seidman is survived by his wife Sally, six children and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He will be missed.

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