Marc Steckel brings a pragmatic leadership style to the FDIC and shares his experience with BU students
Growing up in Slatington, a town of 5,000 in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, Marc Steckel ’93 recalls being a bit wild and giving his parents ulcers.
Two decades later as a leader at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC), Steckel helped protect residents of small towns like Slatington from financial ruin as the Great Recession of 2007-2009 tore through communities.
“As long as deposits are under the insurance limit, a person is guaranteed their money if a bank fails. $250,000 is a lot to most people,” says Steckel. “And when you give them that satisfaction that they’re going to get their money, it’s great to be able to do that for people.”
The scope of the 18-month crisis was vast, large enough to strain the resources of even the FDIC. The pragmatic problem-solving skills of Steckel — described by a colleague as the antithesis of an ivory-tower bureaucrat — played a role as the FDIC worked to ensure that the needed financial resources were in place by working with banks and having them prepay their insurance to pay current losses while avoiding the use of taxpayer funding.
Credit his blue-collar upbringing. Credit his experience at Bloomsburg University. Either way, Steckel has worked his way up the FDIC ladder over the course of 24 years and kept his alma mater in his heart.
Steckel chose Bloomsburg because the campus was far enough from home but close enough that he didn’t have to get on an airplane. It was a good fit for his family financially as well. BU offered him a Mitrani Scholarship, which allowed Steckel to get through college without needing a student loan.
“But there was also a performance component,” says Steckel, who was in the Scholars Program (now Honors Program) and was a Tau Kappa Epsilon brother. “I was effectively guaranteed the money the following year if I maintained a 3.5 GPA in the current year. It kept me focused.”
He had worked for a year to save up money before coming to Bloomsburg, so when he arrived, Steckel adopted a workday view of school. “School to me was 9 to 5,” he says. “During the day I was typically in the library if I wasn’t in class.”
Steckel’s courses taught him critical thinking skills, including a 400-level finance class that he remembers as a special challenge. “The professor would randomly pick a student, and that student was on stage for the whole class. You didn’t know if it was going to be you, so you had to come prepared. The pressure of not knowing what the questions were going to be, to have a deep understanding of what you were talking about, and having to defend yourself in front of someone who’s a smart questioner, it was a worthwhile experience. It was probably the closest thing to what real life in the workplace is like.”
Those skills prepared him well for his career. In the fall of Steckel’s senior year, the FDIC came to recruit on campus — he joined the organization in June 1993 as a bank examiner in Harrisburg, traveling to banks across central Pennsylvania. Since then he has worked his way up, serving in different roles for the FDIC across the country and gaining a broad understanding of the organization.
Throughout the financial crisis, the FDIC resolved over 500 failed banks (in contrast to just seven from 2003 to 2006), and while these were typically smaller, community banks, there was a need to address issues related to large institutions as well. In 2011, a new group was established to focus on that, with Steckel at the helm as deputy director of complex financial institutions in Washington, D.C.
“In my job, I deal with fascinating public policy issues. I absolutely love it,” Steckel says. “And I like the FDIC’s mission. Regular working people can put their life savings in a bank and not have to worry if they’re going to get their money back.”
Sean Cassidy ’87, a colleague at the FDIC, says Steckel is seen as an inspiring leader. “In addition to taking on the new responsibilities, he went on a road show to ensure others in the division understood the mission of this new branch, including the challenges ahead,” Cassidy says.
“Marc is well respected, values relationships and connects well with people at all levels of the corporation.”
Much of Steckel’s success comes from his ability as a great communicator. Not only is he very personable, Cassidy says, but he also has a talent for explaining complex topics to ensure everyone, whether they are executives, managers or staff, has a clear understanding of the content.
Once established with a successful career, Steckel said he and his wife, Diane, were in a place financially where they could start being charitable. They began to donate to some organizations but felt something was missing.
“It felt like we weren’t having the best impact,” Steckel says. “People come and ask you for $100 or $500. You write the check, and then you’re not quite sure what happens with it. You can do that all day long, and maybe you give away a good bit of money, but we weren’t sure what the lasting impact of any of it was.”
They became more strategic with their donations. Since the Mitrani Scholarship had played a pivotal role in his career, Steckel wanted to repay that kindness.
“As an adult, I’ve come to understand the mandate of BU and how transformative it can be. If I had not gone to Bloom, and not gotten the financial assistance, I might have ended up in another career, maybe a less-impactful one,” says Steckel. “I realize how important BU was for me and I want that for the students now.”
The Steckels began directing money to scholarships for students in the Honors Program. And that was the beginning. Steckel went from coming back to campus periodically for a homecoming to becoming a key member of BU’s alumni community. He has been an active alumni network leader for the Washington, D.C. region, hosting Bloomsburg students for internships and for a Husky Career road trip to the FDIC. Now serving as vice president of the Bloomsburg University Alumni Association, he also comes to campus to work with students through the school’s Professional U initiative.
“That was a catalyst for getting to know a lot more people,” says Steckel. “It was fun to be able to connect back to the university as an adult. There are lots of interesting things to learn, getting to know the organization, learning the reasons behind the decisions that are made — as a student I didn’t have a window on this side of the university.”
Steckel received the William T. Derricott ’66 Volunteer of the Year Award last April in recognition for his volunteer activities in 2016. “I was actually a little embarrassed,” he says. “I’m not doing it for the recognition — I’m doing it because the interactions are rewarding. I enjoy being able to help students.”
One of the key themes Steckel stresses when he speaks with students is recognizing that success comes from both situational awareness — recognizing the problems that need to be solved — and self-awareness — what you can bring to the situation to help solve it. “You can be a leader or you can be a boss. If you want to lead people somewhere, it’s an act of faith. There must be a sense of trust that you’re taking them somewhere they want to go,” he says.
“I’ve never had a bad reception from students,” says Steckel. “Every time I speak with students they are so grateful, they’re engaging, and they ask great questions. To say, ‘Hey, I was just like you a few years ago …’ I think a lot of students connect to that, and they seek advice.”
Steckel says a common theme throughout all his volunteer activities is that he never knew there was a need for alumni to give time to the university. But he now recognizes how essential alumni are to the Bloomsburg experience for students.
“I think it’s important for alumni like Marc to give back to the university so that students can learn from their experiences and expertise,” says Barbara Romano, president of the BU Alumni Association. “If we can bridge the gap for one student and make them feel more comfortable as they begin their journey after Bloomsburg, then I consider that a success.”
Many Bloomsburg students come from working-class roots, like Steckel, and he says it’s one of the unique things about his alma mater.
“There’s a pragmatism that comes with that, the recognition that this is not esoteric stuff that we’re working on, that things need to get done,” he says. It’s the same attitude that his parents instilled in him, the same concept his Bloomsburg experience reinforced, and it’s how he tries to lead his team at the FDIC. Asking questions, getting things accomplished. No B.S.
“I don’t know what the opposite of wonkish-ness is,” Steckel jokes, “but Bloomsburg graduates tend to not be wonks. We try to understand something, then figure out what to do. But then actually being able to get things done is key.” •
Kelley Freund is a freelance writer based in Virginia.