Herbert M. Allison, Jr.

Herbert M. Allison, Jr.

Died July 14, 2013

Herb, the son of an F.B.I. agent, prepared for Yale at Garden City High School in Garden City, NY, majored in philosophy and went on to earn an M.B.A. at Stanford in 1971.

Perhaps an astute observer might have understood Herb’s potential in considering his four years of Navy service during 1965-69, in particular in Nha Trang, South Vietnam, where he supervised a group including officers who outranked him, unusual even in those troubled times.

Herb did not promote himself in our class publications. In Late Returns for the class book and directory for our 25th reunion, he reported joining Merrill Lynch’s Investment Banking Division in New York after Stanford, relocating to Paris and then Iran, where he met and married Simin. He noted, almost as an aside in the class directory for our 40th reunion that he was then chairman, president and C.E.O. of TIAA-CREF, the giant financial services company, without even mentioning he’d previously risen to the top of Merrill Lynch, as president, chief operating officer and board member.

While at Merrill, Herb helped coordinate the group of banks that bailed out the hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management in 1998. That same year he oversaw large layoffs after a period of turmoil in the markets, then left in 1999 amid a leadership shake-up.

With comparable modesty Herb reported in the class directory for our 45th reunion that his business was “Assistant Treasury Secretary, Dept. of the Treasury,” without even alluding to his pivotal role in the then current economic turmoil and the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).

A political appointee of both President Obama and President George W. Bush, Herb was put in charge of Fannie Mae in 2008 as part of the Bush administration’s effort to rescue it and its sister company, Freddie Mac. He had supported Mr. Obama’s 2008 presidential run, even though two election cycles earlier he had run the finance committee for Senator John McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign. At the time, he had only recently retired as chairman and chief executive officer of TIAA-CREF.
As assistant treasury secretary, Herb helped oversee TARP, created under the Bush administration and endorsed by Mr. Obama. He left the Treasury Department in September 2010, and about a year later the White House appointed him to conduct an independent review of government loans to energy companies after the bankruptcy of Solyndra, a solar panel company that had received government financing under the Obama administration.

He was also the founder of the Alliance for Lifelong Learning, a joint venture with several universities; a director of Time Warner; and a member of advisory panels at the Yale School of Management, the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. In addition, Herb was a director of the New York Stock Exchange from 2003 through 2005.

In 2011, Herb wrote a book about the latest financial crisis, The Megabanks Mess, in which he argued that the nation’s largest banks should be broken up. He was working on another book at the time of his death.

After having begged off the prior year because of the then unannounced Solyndra assignment, Herb cogently addressed our 2012 Class Dinner at the Yale Club in Manhattan on the subject of how the metastasizing of the political industry and those financially dependent upon it tends to sustain the partisan divide and work against political compromise.

Herb died of heart failure on July 14, 2013, survived by his wife, Simin, sons John and Andrew, and a younger brother, George.

Herb’s widow, Simin, is fond of Alice Munro’s observation that, “the constant happiness is curiosity.” Simin shared some of her memories of life with Herb. “Herb’s favorite story was about how first we met, and he told it beautifully, lovingly and umpteen times. He had just arrived in Tehran by car from Paris, two weeks on the road through several different countries in dead of winter, (that would be yet another Herb story). He reported for work at 8:30 am at the office of Managing Director of Industrial and Mining Development Bank of Iran.

The person who greeted him was the first Iranian girl he had ever met; five months later, in May of 1974, we were married. We lived in Iran for four years, and there we had our first son, John. In record time Herb learned to speak and write Farsi, a condition stipulated by my father. We traveled around the country and had a glorious time. Herb immersed himself in the culture and mastered the art of t’aarof, the Iranian approach to etiquette, which helped him later in his life and endeared him to all the Iranians he came into contact with.

We moved to London for a year then to NYC where Herb started his climb up the corporate ladder. Life was never dull with Herb, one was always on a mission to learn to improve and to change. He saw a higher purpose in every job he took. His integrity had no bounds. Herb had courage and was curious and humble. He was able to keep his cool and his perspective when fires were burning around him and he was tested on that many times.

Herb adored me and his sons John and Andrew, loved his family and friends, loved his newspapers (especially the pink one), loved his daily workout routine, loved the Yankees, loved a good debate, loved politics, was proud of Yale and Stanford and his association with them. He was very patriotic and proud of his service to the country.

Herb saw the potential in everybody, treated everybody the same and always had a smile and an open face. He was a great mentor, especially to young people. He was current and hip in everyday life, a walking encyclopedia, sometimes with the help of his ever-present iPhone. He was driven, patient, and at times annoyingly persistent. Herb was my soul mate and love of my life. We were teammates and spent every minute together that we could. We miss him dearly.”

Robert Heil remembers: I traveled around Europe with Herb, the summer following graduation. He had a wonderful sense of humor and was a joy to be with. For laugh-out-loud funny, I remember one time when, out of the blue, he started singing loudly to the tune of the Isley Brothers song, Shout, using the words, “Wellll . . . You know I think I’ve got the gout!”

Darwin Gillett remembers: I remember Herb at Yale from taking philosophy courses together. I decided not to major in it – after all how could one earn a living with a philosophy degree? Or so I thought. Herb did major in philosophy and of course went on to do very well in business. When I was out of work in the 1980s, he took my call at Merrill Lynch and tried to be helpful. At subsequent reunions, he always looked me up. I’ll miss Herb. Not only a very accomplished business person, but a warm, personal guy!

Ronald Wilmore remembers: Herb was one of the most important presences in my life. He was also one of the finest minds I have ever interacted with. Yet he never made me feel that I was not on his level of intelligence. In addition to being one of my best friends, he is responsible for saving our country from financial collapse two different times – once when he was at Merrill Lynch and then again when he was in charge of TARP. He and his wife, Simin, have added so many wonderful moments to Sandy’s and my lives and those who interacted with them socially over the years. Herb’s death has left a huge hole in my life. He is with me every single day now. Remembrance of his smile and his witty statements are priceless to me I am fortunate to have been in the same senior society with him and Woody Knapp and to have been his dear friend ever since we became members of Sisyphus in 1964. Herb was one of a kind.

Dodd Fischer remembers: Herb was a buddy in Pierson – he was shaped by his interest in philosophy and his mother’s love. We studied together and procrastinated late into the night, many times, while debating our futures and the problems of the world. He was brilliant from the start, and, for him, classwork was something to put off until the last minute, or maybe something to overlook entirely. For me, it was always a serious effort and if it had not been for Herb, I doubt I could have finished my senior year. Herb overcame long odds and serious struggle, to serve in Vietnam, then to make a big name for himself in the commercial world. A sensitive fellow, he had serious empathy for others, the important and the unimportant, and a keen sense of how human behaviors can be affected and distorted by financial incentives. He found opportunities to serve our government in Washington and other associated agencies. Two women figured prominently in his success, his mother on Long Island, and then his wife Simin. He died last year of a sudden stroke.

Charles Harte remembers: Herb, my roommate and best man, was indeed a Best Man. We both served in the Navy at about the same time, although he went to Stanford’s business school first. After the Navy, Herb spent many years at Merrill Lynch in overseas assignments, but upon his return to NYC in the 80s, he was always available to give me advice on my various business ventures. In exchange, I tried to help him with his terrible golf game. If only he had applied the Herbian focus to golf, he’d probably be in the USGA hall of fame. But he had other things more important. My son, Brian, Yale ’91, even did a Merrill summer job with Herb, and when he transitioned from practicing medicine to management at the Cleveland Clinic, Herb was available for advice. Herb was a vastly talented man, and probably the most focused individual I’ve ever met. He offered me a model of what business success looked like, and also what a true friend was. Always there, always available no matter what. A real mensch.

James Browning remembers: Herb was the first person I met in our class. We were introduced when he came to San Antonio to visit his uncle in San Antonio the summer before our freshman year. When I arrived at Yale, Herb introduced me to his roommate, Gil Ott, who lived in the next entryway at Vanderbilt Hall.

Robert Leich remembers: Although I did not know Herb at Yale, we became good friends through reunions and other class activities. Over the years I have chaired the class dinner in NYC some 15-20 times and our 50th will be the third reunion for which I have served as a co-chairman. I mention this because whenever I needed someone as a speaker or a panelist at those events, Herb was always willing to step up without hesitation, and we were the better for that decision. In recent years I teased him that he was having a hard time retiring, as each time that he did, the then current occupant of the White House would call him back into service! Just months before his untimely death I told him that it looked as if he had finally made it. So sad that he is gone.

Jonathan Wahl remembers: I met Herb early freshman year; we must have been in some classes together (maybe Directed Studies). For some reason, we ran into each other from time to time at Yale, though we were in different colleges and majors. He had such an easy and friendly manner, it was hard to guess that such a nice guy would go so far in the financial world. It was wonderful catching up with him at our 40th reunion, hearing about his adventures and needling him about a TIAACREF equity that was not doing so well. It was not a surprise that he served in both Republican and Democratic administrations. We miss him.

Frank Schreck remembers: I was privileged to have been part of a small group in Pierson College with Herb. Obviously one of the most talented men in the class of 1965. I remember a wonderful lunch at the Yale Club in NY with Herb and my son, who was deciding what to do with his life. I asked Herb to provide some advice and guidance which he did. I will be so ever grateful. I will miss him.

R. Douglas McPheters remembers: I didn’t get to know Herb until he’d risen to the top of Merrill Lynch, and that was only the beginning of his superior and unique commercial and governmental accomplishments. Yet interacting with him more recently brought to mind his modest entry in our 1965 class book and subsequent directories: approachable, friendly and unassuming. An honor and pleasure to have known him.

John Pinney remembers: Herb was without doubt one of the most intelligent, decent and honorable men I’ve ever known.

Ralph Protsik remembers: In the Class Notes following Herb’s death, John Pinney described Herb as “greatly admired for his integrity and humility as well as his many accomplishments in business and government.” For those of us fortunate to have known Herb, going back to Yale days, it’s the former we will remember first – his loyalty to friends; dedication to family; humor; kindness; grace; that ability to look in you the eye and have you know that, at that moment, you were the most important person in his life. Herb may have been email pen pal to more friends than anyone else in our class. A stranger meeting Herb for the first time would never guess that he was an accomplished executive, nor that he lived his life with wiring that nature bequeathed him that required him to manage his environment differently from most of us — but that also explained why he might show up on his first day at Merrill Lynch, sit down for lunch with his treasurer, and spend the next three hours covering the first 11 pages of questions (out of 22) he had written out on a yellow legal pad; or how, with single-minded dedication, he would question his son’s friends whenever he saw them — about their aspirations and interests and lives in general; or how he approached his other son’s 7th grade homework essay assignment — putting him through seven drafts before it met Herb’s standards. Many people Herb touched learned that good was not good enough. More importantly, they learned that nice guys can finish first. Herb was a mensch, and we continue to miss him.