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For immediate use

Jan. 13, 1997

Erskine Bowles to deliver May commencement address at UNC-CH

UNC-CH News Services

CHAPEL HILL -- It took much less arm twisting for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to persuade Erskine Bowles to deliver its May commencement address than it did for President Bill Clinton to coax the Charlotte businessman-turned-political confidante to become White House chief of staff.

Bowles, a 1967 UNC-CH alumnus who was named to the White House post in November, will speak at Carolina's ceremony May 11 at 9:30 a.m. in Kenan Stadium. Besides advising the new graduates, he expects to take in the ceremony like thousands of other proud parents as his son, Samuel Boyce Bowles, earns a bachelor's degree in business administration.

Bowles said when he was asked to give the address he immediately wanted to, but first sought permission from Sam.

 "When I told Sam about being asked, he said, `Dad, you seem really excited about doing this.' He was surprised because I never want to do public `stuff' like this," Bowles said. "But Sam was right: I am excited because I love Chapel Hill and what it has done for me and the other members of my family.

"I not only treasure the four years I spent there, but I also appreciate how the university enriched my life; how it provided me the foundation to continue to learn and grow; and how it introduced me to friends I still enjoy and work with today," he said. "Having watched Sam have a similar experience, only better, I know the university I love continues to help young folks find their own individual way along that path to progress, whether they become a poet, philosopher, lawyer, banker or a business person.

"When Sam said yes -- `Dad, I'd be proud to have my daddy speak' -- I was thrilled, thrilled as a dad and as an alumnus of the university." UNC-CH Chancellor Michael Hooker said he was happy with that decision.

"I am delighted that Erskine Bowles will return to his alma mater to help us celebrate commencement," Hooker said. "He is one of the university's most outstanding and visible alumni. Carolina shares in the state's great pride in its native son who has taken on what is arguably the second toughest job in Washington. Erskine's impressive business and political success should serve as an inspiration to our graduates, and I look forward to his message. The day also should be special for the Bowles family since it marks the graduation of son Sam."

Ladell Robbins, UNC-CH senior class president, echoed Hooker's sentiments. Bowles and today's graduates have tread in similar footsteps at Carolina and is a prime example of what a graduate can go on to do, he said.

"He's maintained a strong commitment to the school, the state, the country and also his profession," Robbins said. "It's really inspiring to see an individual like that and to contemplate what you could do after graduation."

Bowles' selection as chief of staff, replacing retiring Leon Panetta, was President Clinton's first move to restructure his staff for his second term in office. Bowles had left the White House nearly a year earlier after serving 14 months as deputy chief of staff to co-found the successful Charlotte-based merchant bank Carousel Capital. When first asked by Clinton to become chief of staff, Bowles reportedly turned him down, citing family and business obligations. But he eventually accepted the post with the strong support of his family and colleagues.

As chief of staff, Bowles, known for his effective management and low-key leadership style, is the second-in-command at the White House and responsible for day-to-day operations and organizing Clinton's time. In naming him to the post, Clinton told a news conference, "I wanted someone of stature, intellect, dedication, drive and the capacity to do this virtually impossible job." He described Bowles as "both a manager and a leader. He's combined business success and dedicated public service."

Bowles' road to the new post included a 1993-94 stint as administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, which he is credited with revitalizing. As administrator, he directed a comprehensive array of programs and services designed to promote and expand U.S. small business, simplified the agency's organizational structure, revamped its programs and focused the agency on serving its customers -- the owners of America's small businesses. He also served as a voting member of the National Economic Council.

From October 1994 to December 1995 Bowles served as deputy chief of staff for Clinton. He oversaw internal administration and helped control access to the president. He received high marks for helping restructure the White House staff, streamlining operations and making the president's schedule run more smoothly.

Even after returning to North Carolina to start up Carousel Capital, Bowles remained a trusted Clinton adviser, helping prepare him for the presidential debates. He also is a favorite presidential golf partner.

Bowles, who holds a bachelor's of science in business administration from Carolina and a master's in business administration from Columbia University, where he was student body president, is known for his sharp business acumen. Before his government service, he was chairman and chief executive officer of Bowles Hollowell Conner & Co., a Charlotte-based investment banking firm he founded in 1975. He also has worked with Morgan Stanley & Co. in New York in its corporate finance group and was vice president of corporate finance for Interstate Securities Corp. in Charlotte. From 1975 to 1976 he was a finance instructor at UNC-Charlotte.

Also recognized for his public service, Bowles has been a vocal champion of diabetes research and served as president of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation in New York City for two years. During that time he revived the foundation, tripling its annual fund raising for research and personally devoting time and energy to meet with families, like his own, who have a child with the disease.

Throughout his career, Bowles has remained a staunch Carolina supporter. He has served on the boards of visitors of UNC-CH and its Kenan-Flagler Business School, the Arts and Sciences Foundation Inc. Board of Directors and the National Development Council.

Bowles' allegiance to UNC-CH echoes that of his late father, Hargrove "Skipper" Bowles, an N.C. gubernatorial candidate and longtime university benefactor who was responsible for leading efforts to raise more than $34 million to build the Dean E. Smith Center. The road in front of the center and a room in the adjacent natatorium bear the elder Bowles' name, as do UNC-CH's alcohol studies center and the new building in which it is housed.

Bowles is married to Crandall Close Bowles, president of Springs Industries and a former classmate of Hillary Clinton at Wellesley College. Besides Samuel, they have a daughter, Anne, who is a junior at Carolina, and a son Bill, who is freshman at Princeton University.

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Note: News Services, (919) 962-2091, can provide additional biographical information on Bowles. Contact: Liz Lucas