Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia
Born in: Sydney, NSW
Home Town: Sydney
Glenn Stevens calls himself Sydney's most boring person. And he probably is. Other people call him conservative and overpaid. And he probably is.
Either way, you won't see the RBA governor eating out at flashy restaurants or hanging around with other movers and shakers. In fact, the bald-headed Baptist is the very model of a demure central banker.
"You're this person that nobody knows," David Koch recently told the Reserve Bank boss during an unprecedented Sunrise interview. "And yet you're the bloke who controls their lives."
But preferring the quiet life has not weakened Stevens' power. In a nation of some two-and-a-half million mortgage holders, you can guarantee the entire nation is watching the news on the first Tuesday of each month to sweat on his latest decision.
"Stevens ostensibly controls the 'price of money', so he is extremely powerful," economist Christopher Joye tells The Power Index. "In finance, he is the most powerful person after the Treasurer. Absolutely no doubt."
Stevens first joined the RBA research department in 1980 after graduating with an economics degree from the University of Sydney. He's been at Martin Place ever since. Now, as the man pulling the levers of economic policy, Stevens can move markets and cripple prime ministers. In fact he's probably already done so.
In 2007, when Stevens and his crew decided to raise interest rates to an 11-year high during an election, it spelled doom for a Howard government which had campaigned on the issue. Despite an impassioned plea from the prime minister, Howard was out of office two weeks later.
In one fell swoop, Stevens had proved the board's independence. "It was a triumph of clear thinking. I thought that was absolutely the right position to have," says economist Nicholas Gruen on the unprecedented rate rise.
Stevens' main source of power lies in the Reserve Bank Act 1959, which sets out the tools he and his board have at their disposal to manipulate monetary policy. One of these, of course, is the ability to change the overnight inter-bank cash rate, which is intended to keep inflation within the target rate of 2-3%.
Born and bred in the Sutherland Shire, where he attended the same high school as UBS CEO Matthew Grounds, Stevens currently lives in southern Sydney with his wife, Susan. As well as a penchant for fast cars and jazz, the 53-year-old is a certified commercial pilot, who recently purchased a used Piper Seneca II aircraft.
Stevens is also a committed Christian; by all accounts a quite muscular one -- a trait that is rumoured to not be uncommon at the RBA. He met his wife through Scots Presbyterian Church in Sydney, plays guitar in the Heathcote Church band and recently told Wesley Mission he takes comfort from his faith when making difficult decisions.
Decisions he hasn't been reticent to make. Since his rise to top dog in September 2006, the cash rate has changed 18 times; moving up on 12 occasions and down eight. Many of those changes came during the global financial crisis, when the board was prompted to slash rates by 375 basis points in five months to try and stave off a recession.
"The RBA did an excellent job in its response to the global financial crisis and its adjustments to policy settings since then have been sensible," economist John Quiggin tells The Power Index.
Fellow number cruncher Nicholas Gruen agrees: "In hindsight, he overdid the interest rate rises before the great financial meltdown. But he was pretty much bang on during the crisis. Certainly they cut aggressively."
But when it comes to interest rates, Stevens has also come in for his fair share of criticism. ACTU boss Jeff Lawrence recently said the RBA was "out of touch" with regular punters, while retailers have made impassioned pleas for interest rate relief to assist its devastated sector. One major metropolitan newspaper asked on its front page whether he was "the most useless man in Australia".
But rather than shirk the attention, Stevens has looked to open up the media-shy central bank. Board minutes are now released after every meeting and media releases dispatched after every rate decision. RBA speeches have also increased.
Outspoken former board member Warwick McKibbin recently told the AFR Magazine that Stevens has allowed the board to break its traditional cone of silence and speak publicly, a noticeable change from Ian Macfarlane's period of office.
Gruen believes Stevens' bid to bring more transparency to the RBA has been a positive move: "It's just part of good hygiene and it doesn't seem like it was much of problem for him to do, so good on him."
But Joye says transparency has lessened Stevens' influence: "Ian Macfarlane was a much more powerful governor than Stevens. Why? Because of the way he wielded it," says Joye.
"Under Mac, there was no board debate, no board dissent. He completely controlled the monetary policy outcomes."
But with extra scrutiny also comes greater rewards. Last year, Stevens received a pay rise to become the country's first million-dollar public servant. He is now one of the most highly paid central bankers in the world, banking hundreds of thousands more than US Fed counterpart Ben Bernanke.
That pay rise caught the ire of Sydney Morning Herald economics columnist Ross Gittins, who likened it to Stevens doing a deal with the Mafia. By taking the money, Stevens had lost his "moral authority" to question any other wage increases that the RBA believed were putting pressure on the economy, said Gittins.
Treasurer Wayne Swan must have been listening, he recently announced the Remuneration Tribunal would decide on salaries instead of the RBA board.
But whether it's the money or the power, to say we don't know much about what drives the monetary mandarin is an understatement. Quietly spoken, intelligent and elusive, the governor enjoys the spotlight about as much as a prisoner trying to scale the back wall of a jail.
Up until last year's surprise exclusive with Koch, Stevens had not given one on-the-record interview in his 30 years inside the marble walls of the RBA. Unsurprisingly, he declined to be interviewed by The Power Index.
As for what's next, whenever that may be, Stevens doesn't expect to play a high-profile role in corporate Australia: "There's nothing particularly remarkable about me at all, and when I'm not in the job any more, I'll be disappearing, that's for sure," he said in a Wesley Mission speech last year.