Faces of the Atlanta Fed: André Anderson, Atlanta Fed First Vice President
André Anderson figures he's found his place.
Of course, he's been there for 34 years. That place: the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. On July 1, Anderson became the Reserve Bank's first vice president and chief operating officer, its number two executive.
He wasn't always so sure that this was his place. When he started as a management intern at the Atlanta Fed's Birmingham Branch in 1984, Anderson figured he'd be there a year, maybe a couple at most.
A year became a couple and then a decade as he found himself absorbed in his duties. The work of the central bank mattered to the country. Anderson navigated functions such as handling savings bonds and Treasury securities, processing paper checks, regulating and examining banks, and eventually overseeing communications and human resources.
At a point, he experienced an epiphany: "The Bank fits me, and I fit the Bank."
Anderson is by nature a careful introvert who likes to cloister himself to analyze spreadsheets and plot strategy. As the nation's central bank, the Fed is careful, and much of its work is analytical and thoughtful.
"Over time, you put these things together," Anderson said during his first month as first vice president. "When you're 25, those synapses don't touch. Over time, you start to say, ‘Ah, that makes sense to me now.'"
Competence and an ease with people
Early in Anderson's Atlanta Fed days, his solid competence and easy way with others made an impression on his colleagues, recalls Jim McKee, a retired Bank executive who first worked with Anderson in the late 1980s.
"I had absolute trust in him," McKee said. "He was an extremely capable person, communicated well, and had that special ability to connect with people."
Chris Alexander saw it, too. Alexander, now a vice president in the Fed's Atlanta-based Retail Payments Office, joined the Bank as an internal auditor at the Birmingham Branch a couple of years after Anderson started there.
An auditor's job is to determine what people are doing wrong and to tell them about it and help them devise fixes. Plenty of people react poorly, even angrily, to that sort of feedback, but Anderson never did, Alexander recalled. "He's always had a very balanced, calm perspective," he said. "He doesn't get too high or too low."
Moving smoothly between different worlds
Anderson came by his interpersonal skills early. Moving among different racial and socioeconomic spheres in Mobile, Alabama, put him at ease in various settings. His parents were both public school teachers. One of Anderson's grandparents was active in the civil rights movement in Birmingham, where Anderson's father grew up. His maternal great-grandfather was the victim of racial violence in Mobile.
Anderson grew up in Mobile's Toulminville neighborhood. White flight during the 1960s and '70s left the area mostly African American. He also spent a great deal of time with his grandmother in the adjacent Crichton neighborhood, a low- to moderate-income area.
Meanwhile, Anderson's father worked three jobs so that he and his sister could attend Catholic schools. Anderson's Catholic high school was about 95 percent white. "Going to school in this middle-class white community, then spending evenings in this low-to-mod area taught me how to play in both worlds," he said. "It taught me that people are people. I go here, I can relate. I go there, I can relate. It was a great life lesson for me. It exposed me early to the fact that I'm fine anywhere."
Indeed, at meetings of the first vice presidents of the 12 regional Federal Reserve Banks, Anderson is often the only person of color in the room. But he's comfortable there. Other settings with the broader Fed staff generally include groups that are more diverse, and he's comfortable there as well.
"My parents always raised me to look deeper than race, and I hope others do that with me. While race is important, we are all so much more than what we see on the outside," Anderson said.
His parents also instilled an ethos that informs Anderson's leadership philosophy—that of the servant leader. Depicting this philosophy, he forms an inverted pyramid—pointing downward—with his hands. Rather than placing himself and other senior management atop a hierarchy—at the tip of a right-side-up pyramid—he views the more appropriate framework as the top managers supporting the larger group of employees.
During a June event for Atlanta Fed staff to announce Anderson's selection as the Reserve Bank's number two executive, Anderson became emotional discussing the influence of his parents. Later, he said the moment actually surprised him. "When I look back, I realize they were just good, solid citizens," he said. "They gave all to their family. It was never about them."
His mother, who taught high school chemistry and biology, had one Sunday dress. His father, a language teacher fluent in three languages other than English, took on work with a janitorial service. Young André would tag along to help, often on Sunday evenings, which he admits he did with little enthusiasm.
In addition to learning the value of persistence and respect for people at all levels of an organization, Anderson said those Sunday nights cleaning offices with his father instilled the value of planning. He vowed he'd get things done sooner so that he could relax on Sunday nights.
A happy place in the grass
Anderson's children also grasped the value of education. All four graduated from college. A son recently earned a master's degree in business administration at Georgia Tech and a daughter is about to start work on a master's degree in mechanical engineering at Boston University.
These days, Anderson's new position is fairly consuming, the weightiest of many assignments at the Atlanta Fed over his more than 30 years at the institution. He has thrived through all those posts in part because he has always found the challenge in what may seem the mundane. "Maybe you can find better ways to do it, or to explain it to others. And I'm competitive. I want to win. I want to be good. I want us to be the best."
If he can't find a challenge in something, he said he generally won't do it. Hence, he took up golf as an adult. He has found the game endlessly challenging, yes, but also calming.
"It's a happy place for me," he says of the golf course, "even when I'm hitting that shot in the water. I might say a bad word here or there. But after that I'm back to having fun."