WASHINGTON -- In the anxious days of early 1989, Robert Glauber and his colleagues at the Treasury were putting the final touches on a massive savings and loan salvage plan that President Bush would unveil Feb. 6. "We were very concerned that the announcement could trigger runs on savings and loans around the country," said Mr. Glauber, who then was Treasury under secretary for domestic finance.
"I went to sleep the night before absolutely terrified," he added. "When I'm scared, I get this kind of odd, metallic taste in. my mouth, and I can still remember that feeling."
No S&L runs occurred, and Mr. Glauber was able to breathe easier. But only briefly. For Mr. Glauber and the small group of officials who orchestrated the thrift bailout, 1989 was a year of 14-hour work days, lost family time, and high anxiety.
Today, by contrast, Mr. Glauber is back at Harvard University, leading the relatively leisurely life of a tenured professor. He's taken up tennis again and has shed the 30 pounds he gained while working on the bailout law. He teaches a few classes. does a modest amount of consulting, and spends afternoons tending his rose garden.
On the anniversary of the 1989 law. American Banker talked to a number of the officials and industry figures who developed the landmark legislation. Most said their lives were considerably easier these days and much less stressful. But none says he or she regrets taking part in the legislative battle.
"It was an important job that had to be done," said Fred Webber, former head of the U.S. League of Savings Institutions. The U.S. League, another casualty of the savings and loan crisis, has since been merged into the Savings and Community Bankers of America.
Today, Mr. Webber is president of the Chemical Manufacturers Association, a job that he said is a good deal less stressful.
But he keeps in touch with many of the people he worked with in 1989.
Experience Akin to War
"It was like when I was in the Marines," he said, alluding to the days he spent in Vietnam. "The relationships you forge in combat last forever."
While Mr. Webber is still in Washington, many of those who weathered the bailout struggle with him have left town or expanded their base of operations.
Richard Breeden, the White House aide who helped guide the administration's effort, heads the financial services practice at Coopers & Lybrand and spends most of his time in New York.
David Mullins, the assistant Treasury secretary who worked so closely with Mr. Glauber that the two were usually referred to collectively as "Glauber-Mullins," is in Greenwich, Conn., working for Long Term Capital Management, an investment banking firm.
M. Danny Wail, chairman of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board during 1989 and director of the Office of Thrift Supervision for a short time after, has returned to Salt Lake City, where he now has his own financial services consulting business, MDW Consulting.
"My business can be done almost anywhere," he said. "And I figured, 'Why miss an opportunity to smell the roses?', as they say."
Like most of the FIRREA players, Mr. Wail acknowledged that he had no idea what he was getting himself into when he took the job.
He became leader of the bank board just as Congress was putting the finishing touches on legislation that would make $10.8 billion available to the thrift insurance fund. Mr. Wall thought that would be enough to deal with the crisis.
"Then we completed what was the most extensive review that had been done of failing institutions and what they would cost," he said. The results were staggering.
"It was essentially in the $80-$100 billion range," he said.
The new estimates were unnerving, Mr. Wall said, because he knew how the legislative process worked. "I knew it would be months and months before Congress would be able to deal with the issue."
During that time, he said, thrifts would continue to bleed cash, and the crsis would grow worse.
As a result, Mr. Wall was stuck with trying to stretch the $10 billion given him by Congress to solve a $100 billion problem. It was a miserable job, but Mr. Wall is philosophical about it today.
"Somebody had to do it," he said. "And it was important."
Mr. Glauber said he, too, was stunned by the magnitude of the crisis.
He arrived at the Treasury Department late in the final year of the Reagan administration with orders to have a plan ready for the next president's first months in office. But Treasury's research capability was almost nonexistent, he said.
"I loaned Treasury my own personal computer until we could get the money to buy some," he recalled.
Congress Carried the Load
Once the Bush administration unveiled its salvage plan, the workload moved to Capitol Hill, where staffers found themselves working around the clock.
Richard Carnell, then counsel to the Senate Banking Committee, recalls working days that routinely stretched 15 and 19 hours.
The chairmen of both the House and Senate banking committees were new to their jobs, and the Senate panel had an unusually lean staff -- six professionals, including one who worked full-time on housing issues.
"That meant that a huge amount of work fell on a small group of us," said Mr. Carnell.
Today, Mr. Carnell is assistant Treasury secretary for financial institutions.
His work days remain long but nothing like the FIRREA period: he said.
"It was extraordinarily stressful," he said. Given the magnitude of the task, "we knew we couldn't afford to fail."
His former boss, then-Senate Banking Committee staff director Kevin Gottlieb, divides his time between Washington and Syracuse University, where he is adjunct professor.
Mr. Gottlieb runs a political consulting business in Washington and also teaches courses at the Washington Campus, a school for executives who need to know about policymaking. His teaching, he said, "is informed by what I learned from FIRREA."
Mr. Gottlieb is one of the few who says the pace of his life is little changed from his FIRREA days.
"I still sleep only four hours a night," he said. "There's just so much to read, so much to do."