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October 24, 2013

Ringside seat to history

COMMERCE — Being reared in Commerce, Andrew Williams said therural lifestyle has made him feel like a “more genuine person” in the different jobs he has had in the past 15 years.

Williams — currently the vice president of Media Relations for Goldman Sachs in the Greater New York Area — was the keynote speaker Wednesday afternoon for the Hunt County Alliance for Economic Development conference in the Rayburn Student Center on the Texas A&M University-Commerce campus.

Williams, who was known by his first name of Scott in his hometown, said the Commerce lifestyle makes him “take things a little slower” when dealing with Goldman Sachs clients and others in New York.

“Most don’t look at people and have their blinders on,” said Williams, who added he addresses people by looking them straight in the eye. “I’m often asked, ‘What are you looking at?’”

Williams had a ringside seat to the financial crisis that started in 2007 while working at the Federal Reserve Bank in New York.

He said he became aware of what was about to happen when he received a early September morning phone call from a friend in Paris advising him of a panic in France that initiated a whirlwind of financial activity in Europe.

The activity reached the United States in early 2008 and picked up a momentum through the year.

Williams said the momentum stalled during the summmer months, but dramatic changes did come.

“In August, it seemed like everyone was on vacation,” he said. “But when they came back in September, the bottom fell out. It got to be very scary with the markets going down.”

The financial crisis coincided with the presidential election and, in 2009, Williams found himself working as the U.S. Treasury Department serving as the deputy assistant secretary for public affairs underSecretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner.

Weeks into his new role, President Barack Obama told the American public of a plan Geithner had to curtail the financial crisis. Williams said the plan at that time was in its infancy stages and not ready to be presented to the public.

“Geithner had an outline of a plan and we working on filling the blanks,” he added.

Obama provided a setting at the White House for the unveiling of the plan and Geithner gave a presentation that was “terrible,” according to Williams.

“Everybody hated us,” he added.

Despite the setback, the Treasury Department continued to work on the plan, which would eventually require banks to provide an outline of all their earnings to not only the federal government, but the American public as well. The banks were also required to raise money to cushion losses sustainted during the crisis.

The crisis and the development of the plan — which saw many Treasury Department staffers sleeping in their offices and leaving them totally exhausted, according to Williams — was told in a 2009 book, “Too Big to Fail” by Andrew Ross Sorkin and a 2011 HBO movie of the same name. Williams said he was consultant for the movie. Geithner is also working on a book, he added.

Williams would leave the Treasury Department in August 2010 and has no regrets about his work there.

“It was the greatest job I ever had,” he said.


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