Thomas E. Zemke is a man in the middle.
Though employed by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, he is stationed at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Comptroller Eugene A. Ludwig holds one of the five seats on the FDIC's board and relies on Mr. Zemke to keep him up to speed on matters before the agency.
While the two agencies work together on many fronts, they also compete for the regulatory limelight. Even after seven years in the job, Mr. Zemke is an outsider at the FDIC.
"He's in a very difficult position, because when FDIC people talk to him, they have to carefully consider what information is going where," says Robert Miailovich, the FDIC's former associate director of supervision. "That makes it difficult to always be as frank with Tom as you want to be."
Mr. Zemke, whose only office is at the FDIC and whose secretary is an FDIC employee, admits to feeling like a foreigner at times.
"Sometimes I really have to rely on the good network I've developed among FDIC employees," he says.
A big part of his job is providing Mr. Ludwig with the perspective of an "insurer" of financial institutions, rather than the comptroller's primary role as the regulator of national banks.
Besides briefing Mr. Ludwig at least twice a week on matters before the FDIC board, Mr. Zemke says his job entails keeping the comptroller in the loop. For example, when FDIC chief financial officer William A. Longbrake turned in his resignation to Chairman Ricki Helfer on Aug. 27, Mr. Zemke gave Mr. Ludwig a heads-up via E-mail.
Before taking his current position as deputy to the director of the FDIC, the 32-year OCC veteran played a key role in the evolution of the national bank exam. In the mid-1970s Mr. Zemke helped develop the National Bank Surveillance System, a computer-based system that tracked trends in individual institutions and allowed the agency to quickly identify which ones were in trouble.
He joined the agency as an examiner in April 1965, supervising national banks in the agency's western district. He worked his way up the OCC's multinational division, supervising the largest national banks during the three years preceding his move to the FDIC.
After describing Mr. Zemke as a combination of gracious and modest, most people who have worked with him mention his major obsession: marathons.
"He's a running fanatic," says Stephen R. Steinbrink, the OCC's former senior deputy comptroller for bank supervision operations.
Mr. Zemke is currently training for his third Marine Corps Marathon. He arrives at his office at 6 a.m. every morning, answers e-mails, then heads out for a four-mile run along the Mall and around the Tidal Basin.
He won't divulge his times in his previous two marathons. "Finishing is enough of an accomplishment," he says with a laugh. The marathon in Washington is set for October, about a month after his birthday.
"I just want to be able to say I ran a marathon at 55," Mr. Zemke says.