Trustee of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, co-chair of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, former White House chief of staff, president emeritus of the University of North Carolina
I strongly believe that Americans must re-establish trust and a sense of mutual respect if we are to solve the enormous problems facing us today. The Vanderbilt Project on Unity & American Democracy can serve as a catalyst for uniting us in that manner. Together, I am confident that we can unite behind a common set of facts and move our country forward so that the United States can not only compete but win in today’s knowledge-based economy.
Erskine is a native North Carolinian, born and raised in Greensboro, North Carolina. He is a graduate of the University of North Carolina and received his MBA from Columbia University in New York. After serving as an enlisted man in the Coast Guard, Erskine began his financial service career at Morgan Stanley in New York as an associate in their corporate finance group. While at Morgan Stanley, he saw what he believed was a void in the financial services market place and left to form a middle-market investment bank. This firm, Bowles, Hollowell, Conner, became the preeminent mergers and acquisition firm in the middle market. Bowles would later go on to form a venture capital firm, Kitty Hawk Capital; co-found a middle-market private equity firm, Carousel Capital; and serve as a partner in the New York private equity firm of Forstmann Little. During Bowles’ business career, he also served on the boards of various companies including Morgan Stanley (Lead Director), First Union Corporation, Merck, VF, Cousins Properties(lead director), Norfolk Southern Corporation, General Motors, Belk, Facebook, and BDT Capital Partners (lead director).
Erskine has also followed his father’s example of public service. In 1991, he joined the administration of President Bill Clinton as Administrator of the Small Business Administration. In 1993, he was brought to the White House to serve as President Clinton’s Deputy Chief of Staff and later as Chief of Staff. As Chief of Staff, he served as a member of the President’s Cabinet and on both the National Security Council and the National Economic Council. Working at the direction of the President and with the Republican House of Representatives and Senate, Bowles negotiated the first balanced budget in a generation. During his tenure in the White House, he also coordinated the Federal response to the Oklahoma City bombing. In response to the terrible tsunami that struck Southeast Asia in December, 2004, Bowles was asked to join the United Nations as Deputy Special Envoy, with the rank of Under Secretary General to coordinate the global response to the tsunami. In 2010, President Barack Obama asked Bowles to co-chair with former Senator Alan Simpson the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. This bipartisan commission produced a plan to reduce the Nation’s deficits by $4 trillion over the next decade. The plan was supported by a supermajority of the Commission with equal support from both Republican and Democrat members.
Mr. Bowles has also served his home State of North Carolina in numerous ways. From 2005 to 2011, Bowles served as President of the University of North Carolina. The University is composed of 17 campuses, 220,000 students, 40,000 employees and has an annual budget of approximately $8 billion. Erskine also served at Governor Jim Hunt’s request as Chairman of the Rural Prosperity Task Force charged with developing ways to bring economic development to rural North Carolina. He also served on the Board of the Golden Leaf Foundation and founded a private equity company to bring investment capital to rural North Carolina.
Erskine has also found time to be actively involved in not-for-profit organizations. After seeing firsthand how his two sons dealt with Juvenile Diabetes, Bowles threw himself into the work of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, ultimately becoming the National President of the Foundation. After seeing his father and sister deal with the effects of Lou Gehrig’s Disease, Bowles and his wife raised the funds to start an ALS Center in Charlotte to provide a facility to care for all families in the Carolinas affected by this disease. Erskine has also served as Vice Chairman of Carolinas Medical Center and as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Duke Endowment. He currently serves on the boards of The Aspen Economic Strategy Group (Co-Chair with Hank Paulson), the Urban Institute, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Erskine has been married for 49 years to Crandall Close Bowles, former Chair and CEO of Springs Industries. They have three grown children and nine grandchildren. They live in Charlotte.