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Washington-bound Bowen: national speculation has Bill Bowen as possible next FDIC chairman.

BILL BOWEN HAS TROUBLE making it through the buffet line at the Little Rock Club.

The former chairman and chief executive officer of First Commercial Corp. dines regularly at the private restaurant atop the First Commercial Building, where he still has an office.

Bowen seems to know everyone.

While he stops to talk to most of the business and political powers that be, it is Bowen himself who is the topic of conversation these days.

In December, speculation began that President Clinton would appoint the 69-year-old Bowen chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

When Clinton was governor, Bowen was his chief of staff for 15 months and six days.

His ability to spout details others wouldn't even think to remember is just one of Bowen's skills.

"He has two enormous attributes," says former Gov. Frank White, now a senior vice president with First Commercial Bank.

White says it's Bowen's experience both as a successful attorney and as head of one of the top performing banks in the country that makes him a prime candidate for being chairman.

Articles naming Bowen as a likely candidate have appeared in everything from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal to the daily publication American Banker.

"Those speculations sort of feed on themselves," Bowen says. "I was astounded."

Asked if he and Clinton ever discussed him becoming the White House chief of staff, a role that went to former Arkla Inc. chairman Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty, Bowen says, "I can tell you without any qualification that he never talked to me about being White House chief of staff."

As for any discussion about the FDIC position, Bowen says, "It's presumptuous and inappropriate for me to discuss publicly any private visit I've had with the president."

Bowen has been to Washington twice since November -- once for the inauguration and once for the announcement of a youth program.

Mostly, Bowen has been tending to special interests with which he's involved, such as the Arkansas Science & Technology Authority and the Arkansas Technology High School and Aerospace Museum.

He recently joined the board of TCBY Enterprises Inc. and is still a member of the executive committee and board at First Commercial.

Bowen also makes sure he stays in shape, mostly through playing tennis.

"I want to be fit and able to take on whatever the opportunity is to serve," he says.

Bowen heard a saying recently that he says makes sense:

"The early part of one's life is given to learning.

"The productive part of one's life is given to earning.

"And the latter part of one's life is given to serving."

Bowen wants to serve in a non-elected public or private position. The FDIC role would give him that opportunity.

Bowen says he hears the possibility mentioned at least 25 times a day.

"At first I was a little uncomfortable with it," he says. "I'm not now."

Bowen understands he would have to sell his stock in First Commercial if he took the role, but he has not done so. First Commercial's most recent proxy statement shows Bowen and his wife own 3.81 percent of the company's stock, or 385,723 shares, worth about $12.6 million at the end of Thursday's trading.

He'd be willing to sell, though. Just as he'd be willing to leave his beloved state where he's spent most of his life.

"He wants desperately to succeed," Bowen says of his friend Clinton.

"I want him to. I want to be sure I help him in any way I can."
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Title Annotation:Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
Author:Rengers, Carrie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:May 3, 1993
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