These are demanding, sometimes nerve-wracking times for bank executives. James Schwab, U.S. Bank’s Cincinnati market president, had just seen two of his local banking rivals become one when he agreed to talk.

After six years in Cincinnati, Schwab has grown fond of the community. He and his wife, Vivian, live Downtown. Their daughter, Katie, lives in Seattle, and their son, Andy, resides in San Francisco.

Did you ever envision anything like this historic crisis? No. It’s unprecedented. In the long run, the rescue plan will bring stability to our entire financial service industry.
Regarding the bailout or rescue strategies, is there any one element that you feel is essential for stability and eventual recovery? The first order is to rebuild capital, then get banks to lend again in order to rebuild liquidity in the economy. The declining housing market will also have to be stabilized. It’s going to take time for a recovery, as recessionary influences have to work their way out of the system. Right now, the economy is swimming against the tide of incomes not rising and consumer spending slowing down.
Your bank has fared better than some competitors. What did your company do right? U.S. Bank has had a 145-year history, which began right here in Cincinnati, of being a prudent lender and delivering solid returns and dividends to our shareholders. Our commercial loans are priced fair, yet structured conservatively. Our customers can confirm that we have stringent underwriting practices, but they have paid off in terms of our being a safe, reliable and stable financial institution that has a strong capital position. U.S. Bank’s stock is healthy and faring well.
Many Americans are just plain scared. What do you tell people to reassure them? The United States is the strongest, most diverse economy in the world, and we are aggressively addressing all the issues to get back on track. I’m optimistic we will recover, but it will take time, which is hard to fathom in today’s society that is so focused on immediate answers and instant gratification. The upside to all of this is a renewed understanding of what it means to live within our means. I also remind people that, at U.S. Bank, it’s business as usual. We are still making loans.
What do you like to do to take your mind off work? My wife, Vivian, and I enjoy the arts and especially love the ballet, symphony and theater. I also relax by playing tennis, squash and golf.
Are the arts overestimated as a driver of economic development? As past chairman of the 2008 Cincinnati Fine Arts Fund Campaign, I saw firsthand the support of our community and the understanding of the importance of our arts as a positive economic driver in our community.
You visited Minneapolis-St. Paul on a chamber of commerce mission. Have the Twin Cities succeeded at something that we could succeed with more here? Many initiatives in the Twin Cities are similar to what we already have in place. Where they are ahead of us is the revitalization of their urban community — more of their downtown residents have access to services that encourage living downtown. There were also so many urban bike paths people were using that I thought I was in Stockholm!
What is Greater Cincinnati’s biggest challenge in the next decade? To grow our regional economy and keep our premier companies like P&G, The Kroger Co. and Macy’s, as well as keep our financial service and healthcare sectors moving forward. Cincinnati is a great place to raise a family, but it also needs to become a more attractive and viable option for our young graduates and savvy entrepreneurs. We will continue to see companies move here to the heartland from other countries because of our great transportation system and our supply of well-educated and industrious personnel who enjoy the benefits of living in a clean, safe, affordable and enriching area.
What’s your favorite comfort food? Skyline chili ... three-way! And Graeter’s peach ice cream.