Overview – A tough cookie

Picking a row with Paul Volcker, as the European Commission’s internal market chief Charlie McCreevy has, may not be the wisest thing to do.

Link: Volcker rebuffs McCreevy over IASB

The pair are at loggerheads over reform and control of the International Accounting Standards Board.

McCreevy wants greater European representation on the board but Volcker, chairman of the International Accounting Standards Committee Foundation Trustees, has claimed there is enough already. The struggle could be long, and Volcker, not exactly your traditional high-flier, is likely to prove a formidable opponent.

For a start, as if to prove his relative fame, there are not that many economists or bankers who have their own entry on the Internet encyclopedia site, Wikipedia.

But P A Volcker is not like many others in the finance world.

Standing 6ft 8in tall and having the middle name of Adolf is usually reason enough to make someone stand out from the crowd.

But just in case anyone had failed to notice him for those attributes, Volcker has also taken on a number of high-profile jobs in an illustrious career.

He may have referred to his life as ‘pretty orthodox’ in an interview for US television, but that is some understatement. A graduate of Princeton and Harvard, and having spent some time studying at the London School of Economics, he served as under-secretary of the Treasury from 1969-74 and president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank from 1975 to 1979.

The cigar-chomping Volcker really made the big time though when he was appointed the US chairman of the Federal Reserve from 1979 to 1987 and served under two presidents, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.

The actor-turned-leader of the free world famously let Volcker get on with making the big decisions over the economy, raising Volcker’s profile even higher, if leading to some derision of the politician.

But during his eight years at the Reserve, Volcker was largely credited for ending the US’s inflation problem of the early 1980s by his judicious use of interest rates.

Succeeded by Alan Greenspan, Volcker was as famous then as Greenspan is now.

After leaving the Fed, he shunned retirement and instead launched himself as a successful investment banker for the next nine years.

Aged almost 70 when he quit in 1996, this was still not a signal for the industrious Volcker to put his feet up.

Instead, he took up what must have been one of the most exacting jobs even by the standards of his CV – heading a panel that investigated various Swiss banks’ handling of the accounts of Holocaust victims.

Volcker, 78, went to the IASC in 2000 and two years later was heading up an independent commission at Arthur Andersen looking into the Enron collapse and scandal.

Last year, he was appointed chairman of the highly-charged investigation into wrongdoing in the UN oil-for-food programme for Iraq, a job that has got him adverse headlines in the US for a clash of interests amid allegations that a company board he sat on benefited from oil-for-food. Charlie McCreevy may just have bitten off more than he can chew.

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