By any measure, Erskine Bowles has had a meteoric public career. A self-made millionaire from Charlotte, N.C., Bowles met President Bill Clinton only in 1992, and just four years later was the president's choice to replace Leon Panetta as chief of staff. Clinton refers to him as "my best friend in the White House."
Bowles spent his entire professional life in the private sector until 1992, when he became involved with Clinton's first presidential campaign as a fund-raiser. After his election, Clinton appointed Bowles as the director of the Small Business Administration where he excelled.
With his wife and children still in North Carolina, Bowles immersed himself with the SBA and its staff (he was known to answer his employees' e-mail scrupulously and to visit them in the hospital). Clinton has credited Bowles with changing the SBA "from a political backwater to an engine of economic growth."
The two cemented their friendship (and mutual passion for golf) after Bowles became deputy White House chief of staff in 1994. There, Bowles is credited with helping the politically flagging Clinton regain focus, direction and efficiency.
Bowles has a reputation for being a nonideological and plain-speaking manager who is respected by members of both parties. He coordinated the White House response to the Oklahoma City bombing, and managed the return (and subsequent departure) of controversial adviser Dick Morris.
In recent comments to reporters, Bowles said, "I believe in working in a bipartisan manner. I believe in cooperating for the common good. And I believe in having an administration that has clearly defined goals, objectives and time lines such that it and its people can be held accountable."
Bowles, however, lacks the bipartisan trust enjoyed by Panetta, a former congressman. And, whereas Panetta is widely credited for an intricate knowledge of the budget process, Bowles is largely untested in that area. As a pro-business centrist with most of his experience outside Washington, Bowles seems poised for his own transition.
Clinton had some difficulty in convincing Bowles to return to Washington. After his stint at SBA, Bowles returned to North Carolina last year to spend more time with his family and continue his work with the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.
Updated Mar. 3, 1997