A Banking Legend
The Haas School Honors former Bank of America and World
Bank Chief A.W. 'Tom' Clausen with its Lifetime Achievement
By Thomas York
As a child in the 1930s, A.W. "Tom" Clausen
sat with his Norwegian-born father and grandfather in
front of the family radio each night after dinner to
hear news about the rise of Hitler in Europe and the
war in China. He listened well into the evening while
the two older men discussed the grim events that plagued
This was Clausen's first taste of internationalism
-- the idea that the world's nations become increasingly
interdependent with each passing day. "Hearing
about Europe, about the invasion of China by Japan,
and about the world experiences of my father and grandfather
hooked me on the international side of things at a young
age," said Clausen. He has stayed true to this
international perspective over the course of a four-decade
career highlighted by stints as chairman and CEO of
Bank of America, and a term as president of The World
In October 2004, the Haas School of Business named
the 81-year-old Clausen its Lifetime Achievement Award
winner in recognition of his private- and public-sector
leadership in domestic economic affairs and the global
economy. "Tom Clausen is a singular figure in
the history of the banking industry, having long played
a role on the world stage of international business
and economic development," said Dean Tom Campbell.
"He has a world view in all he does, but has never
lost sight of the individual, especially those in need."
The lifetime achievement recognition is well deserved,
according to long-time BofA Executive Barbara J. Desoer,
MBA 77, and Haas School Advisory Board member. "Clausen's
global perspective is even more critical today than
in the past, given the growing importance of emerging
economies around the world," said Desoer, who
was Clausen's executive assistant in the late
80s. "And, he's always willing to share
his experience and knowledge to help others resolve
an issue or challenge."
After graduating from Carthage College in 1944, Clausen
earned a law degree from the University of Minnesota.
While waiting for the results of his bar exam, he took
a part-time job as a bank vault clerk at Bank of America's
Los Angeles main branch. "This was well before
the cashless society," Clausen mused of his first
job. "Trucks would back up to the cash vault and
dump currency all over the floor. Then us gofers would
sort it all out."
Clausen soon joined the bank full-time, and began his
rise through the ranks. He became chairman and CEO at
age 46 in 1970. Under his leadership, Bank of America
emerged as the largest commercial bank in the country,
with assets that grew from $25 to $120 billion, and
financial interests in Europe, Asia, the Middle East,
and South America.
In 1981, Clausen retired from Bank of America and headed
off to run The World Bank as CEO. Once there, he discovered
that getting things done in the scrutinized glare of
the public sector was far more difficult than in the
private sector. He recalled criticism he received for
ordering the purchase of 50 trucks to haul food supplies
during a devastating famine in Ethiopia. The world's
nations had responded generously to appeals for food
supplies, he said, but Ethiopia didn't have the
means to move the food from ports to its parched interior
where millions were starving. Critics thought the bank
should be focused on improving infrastructure not purchasing
mundane items like trucks. "They needed our help,
and this was the best way to help," said Clausen.
"It didn't make sense to leave food rotting
on the docks."
When his term at the World Bank was winding down, BankAmerica's
board came calling. The directors asked Clausen to return
to the bank, which had plunged into financial crisis.
More than $16 billion in overseas loans had gone sour,
and rival First Interstate Bank was threatening a hostile
Clausen took on the challenge, recruiting new managers
and, over a period of four years, reducing spending
as well as restructuring the bank's troubled loan portfolio.
In the process, he transformed a sea of red ink into
black. In his last full year as CEO, the bank reported
$1.1 billion in net earnings.
"Clausen has been a rock of stability and a beacon
of inspiration for the international financial community,"
says Andy Rose, professor and director of the Clausen
Center for International Business and Policy. "His
leadership at both the Bank of America and the World
Bank makes him one of those rare leaders who has demonstrated
truly outstanding abilities in both the private and
Though now retired for more than 14 years, the energetic
octogenarian keeps regular hours at his old haunt, San
Francisco's Bank of America building on California
Street. He keeps his global perspective honed through
work with with the Bretton Woods Committee, the Korea-US
Wisemen's Council, and the Japan Foundation's
Center for Global Partnership. He also participates
in such influential economic and social organizations
as the World Affairs Council of Northern California
and the Asia Foundation.
Clausen has been a staunch Haas supporter since the
late 1980's, when he and his late wife Peggy generously
funded the Clausen Center for International Business
and Policy. In addition to his important contributions
to Haas, Clausen has funded the A.W. Clausen Center
for World Business at his alma mater, Carthage College,
and has also endowed two distinguished professorships
at the University of California, San Francisco.
Sebastian Teunissen, executive director of the Clausen
Center at the Haas School, said Clausen closely follows
the center's activities and is eager to add his
input. "He attends many of our conferences and
lends his support wherever he can," said Teunissen.
"He suggests speakers and puts us in touch with
people that he knows — and he knows a lot of important
people in business and politics."
Clausen believes that a global perspective is far more
important today than yesterday! "You can't resist internationalism,"
he said. "You'd better get with it. You'd better know
it. Because you're going to have to live with it —
even more so tomorrow than today."