Mark Willes became the ninth president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis in April 1977. When he took office at age 35, he was the youngest-ever Federal Reserve Bank president. And he had already spent 10 years at the Philadelphia Fed, where he became first vice president at age 30.
Willes attempted to further the Minneapolis Fed’s research agenda both within the Federal Reserve System and with the public during his term. He was a proponent of rational expectations theory, which at that time was the focus of Minneapolis Fed research economists and considered by some to be a somewhat controversial approach to monetary policy.
He was quite vocal and many times cast dissenting votes at Federal Open Market Committee meetings when he disagreed with System policy. Willes was dubbed a “maverick” by Business Week magazine, a moniker that stayed with him during his term as president. He urged a tighter money supply to fight inflation.
In a 1988 Minneapolis Fed interview on the occasion of the Fed’s 75th anniversary, Willes described his term in office. “What I would hope to be remembered for … are two things. … One, breathing some fresh air into the policy process, and hopefully, in some small way, making not only the process better, but the result a little better, by being vocal, by dissenting. And not only dissenting, but by having at least what we thought were pretty cogent arguments as to why we were dissenting. The other one would be the public education function. I spent an enormous amount of time trying to help people be interested in public policy, help explain what public economic policy was, what kinds of effects it would have, what was possible, was what not possible.”
In 1980, Willes left the Minneapolis Fed to become chief financial officer at General Mills Corp. He moved on to other corporate executive positions there and at the Times Mirror Co., and, most recently, in 2012 he retired as CEO of Deseret Management Corp.
Willes was born in Salt Lake City. He received his bachelor’s degree and Ph.D. from Columbia University, where his dissertation was on monetary policy. Willes became a professor at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania and was a consultant to the Philadelphia Fed before joining the Bank Research staff full time. He also spent a year as a research economist with the Banking and Currency Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives.