Glenn Stevens calls himself Sydney’s most boring person. And he probably is. Other people call him conservative and overpaid. And he probably is.
Either way, you won’t see the RBA governor eating out at flashy restaurants or hanging around with other movers and shakers. In fact, the bald-headed Baptist is the very model of a demure central banker.
“You’re this person that nobody knows,” David Koch recently told the Reserve Bank boss during an unprecedented Sunrise interview. “And yet you’re the bloke who controls their lives.”
But preferring the quiet life has not weakened Stevens’ power. In a nation of some two-and-a-half million mortgage holders, you can guarantee the entire nation is watching the news on the first Tuesday of each month to sweat on his latest decision.
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
“Stevens ostensibly controls the ‘price of money’, so he is extremely powerful,” economist Christopher Joye tells The Power Index. “In finance, he is the most powerful person after the Treasurer. Absolutely no doubt.”
Stevens first joined the RBA research department in 1980 after graduating with an economics degree from the University of Sydney. He’s been at Martin Place ever since. Now, as the man pulling the levers of economic policy, Stevens can move markets and cripple prime ministers. In fact, he’s probably already done so.
In 2007, when Stevens and his crew decided to raise interest rates to an 11-year high during an election, it spelled doom for a Howard government which had campaigned on the issue. Despite an impassioned plea from the prime minister, Howard was out of office two weeks later.
In one fell swoop, Stevens had proved the board’s independence. “It was a triumph of clear thinking,” says economist Nicholas Gruen on the unprecedented rate rise. “I thought that was absolutely the right position to have.”
Stevens’ main source of power lies in the Reserve Bank Act 1959, which sets out the tools he and his board have at their disposal to manipulate monetary policy. One of these, of course, is the ability to change the overnight inter-bank cash rate, which is intended to keep inflation within the target rate of 2-3%.
Born and bred in the Sutherland Shire, where he attended the same high school as UBS CEO Matthew Grounds, Stevens currently lives in southern Sydney with his wife, Susan. As well as a penchant for fast cars and jazz, the 53-year-old is a certified commercial pilot, who recently purchased a used Piper Seneca II aircraft.
Stevens is also a committed Christian; by all accounts a quite muscular one — a trait that is rumoured to not be uncommon at the RBA. He met his wife through Scots Presbyterian Church in Sydney, plays guitar in the Heathcote Church band and recently told Wesley Mission he takes comfort from his faith when making difficult decisions.