Erskine Bowles ’67, who took office as president of the UNC System in January 2006, announced on Feb. 12 that he plans to retire.
Bowles, who will turn 65 on Aug. 8, told the UNC System Board of Governors that he would continue to serve through the end of 2010 or until a successor is found.
Less than a week after his announcement, Bowles was tapped by the Obama administration to help lead a new National Commission of Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.
Bowles is an influential Charlotte businessman who previously served as a top aide in President Clinton’s White House. As White House chief of staff, Bowles brokered a balanced budget agreement in 1997. His father, the late Hargrove “Skipper” Bowles ’41, was a former candidate for governor and one of UNC’s best-known philanthropists. “Skipper” Bowles also chaired UNC’s Board of Trustees and in 1982 received the GAA’s Distinguished Service Medal.
As UNC System president, Bowles succeeded Molly Corbett Broad, who presided over the system for eight years.
When Bowles was unanimously elected to the post in fall 2005, he said, “I cannot imagine having another job that would offer such an extraordinary opportunity to positively impact the lives and livelihoods of the citizens of our state for years and years to come. In the years ahead, we are going to face enormous challenges and opportunities.”
Bowles is the sixth president to lead the consolidated UNC System — only the fourth under its present structure, following Broad (1997-2005), C.D. Spangler ’54 (1986-97) and William C. Friday ’48 (LLB) (1957-72 under the consolidated UNC System and 1972-86 under current structure).
One of the foundations of his legacy as president will be the UNC Tomorrow Initiative, which Bowles conceived along with former BOG Chair Jim Phillips ’79. After the UNC Tomorrow Commission visited every campus in the system, it convened 11 community forums across the state to seek input from residents on how the system could better serve the state.
Among the commission’s findings were a need for greater cooperation among the campuses and a need to draw the Community College System closer to the universities.
“I’m pretty well known to have a strong work ethic,” Bowles told The News & Observer in an interview published on Feb. 19 following the news that Bowles would help lead a bipartisan commission to cut the national deficit. “I’m not afraid of getting both jobs done.”
The 18-member commission, which Bowles will co-chair with former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming, has a Dec. 1 deadline to develop a blueprint on how to balance the federal budget by 2015, excluding interest on the national debt. The full panel has not yet been appointed; some members will be selected by the president and the rest by congressional leaders.
“This is not a Republican or Democrat issue,” Bowles told The N&O. “This is an American challenge. If we don’t [solve it], there’s going to be real problems.
“From a university perspective,” he added to The N&O, “if we don’t get this deficit in hand, there’s not going to be any money to invest in education and innovation and research.”
Bowles served in the Clinton administration as director of the Small Business Administration, as deputy White House chief of staff and White House chief of staff. He took his business degree from Carolina to Columbia University, where he earned an MBA, and then began his business career at Morgan Stanley & Co. in New York. After returning home to North Carolina, he founded and served as chairman and CEO of the Charlotte-based investment banking firm that became Bowles Hollowell Connor & Co. Bowles also was a founder of Kitty Hawk Capital, a venture capital company, and Carousel Capital, a middle-market private equity company.
Bowles also helped found Dogwood Equity, chaired the Rural Prosperity Task Force and served as a trustee of the Golden LEAF Foundation — three entities designed to bring economic development to rural North Carolina. Bowles also has served as vice chair of Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte and as a trustee of the Duke Endowment. Family illness inspired him to help lead efforts to create an ALS (Lou Gehrigs Disease) Center in Charlotte and to serve as the international president of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
He lost bids for a U.S. Senate seat in 2002 and 2004 and, in 2005, he was appointed U.N. deputy special envoy to 13 tsunami-affected countries in Southeast Asia.