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Bowles aims for return to D.C.

With his large, round glasses and quiet demeanor, Erskine Bowles is hardly an imposing presence. But through his work in the private sector and in Washington, D.C., Bowles has earned a reputation as a tough guy who gets things done. And now Bowles has set his sights on making an even bigger impact-by representing North Carolina in the U.S. Senate.

Bowles was born in 1945 in Greensboro, N.C. to Jessamine and Hargrove "Skipper" Bowles. Skipper Bowles was active in state politics, serving in the N.C. House of Representatives and the state Senate and running for governor in 1972.

Bowles earned a business degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1967. He attended Columbia University Business School after a stint in the Coast Guard reserve and earned his MBA in 1969. At Columbia, he served as the business school's student body president.

Bowles worked in New York for two years, but returned to North Carolina in 1971 with his new wife Crandall Close to work on his father's gubernatorial campaign.

Four years later, he founded Bowles Hollowell Conner, which would go on to become one of the country's leading investment banking firms.

Thomas Hollowell, the firm's co-founder, said he and Bowles faced "every challenge imaginable... as a couple guys trying to go out and get business [with] no name recognition." He described the experience as "challenging, a lot of fun and a lot of tremendously hard work."

Through his work with Bowles, Hollowell got to know him on a personal level and spoke admiringly of Bowles' commitment to diabetes research. In 1979, Bowles' son Sam, then five, was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes.

Bowles and his wife immediately became involved with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Bowles went on to join the national board and later became president of the organization.

"Anything he undertakes he's going to give it his all," Hollowell said.

Bowles also took an active role in helping to establish treatment facilities at the Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig's disease. Both his father and his sister, Martha, died after contracting the disease.

After Bowles met former president Bill Clinton, he became an active fundraiser for the 1992 presidential campaign. Bowles was a favorite golf partner of Clinton, and the former president spent nights in Bowles' home during the campaign. In 1993, Clinton tapped Bowles to head the federal Small Business Administration.

Some of the new initiatives under Bowles' leadership included doubling business loan guarantees and transferring personnel in the SBA's regional offices to new field jobs, where they dealt directly with small-business owners.

Bowles remained in Washington serving as deputy chief of staff to the president from October 1994 to December 1995. Bowles endured a brush with scandal when he testified before the special Senate Whitewater committee about his involvement in the investigation of Capital-Management Services, Inc., a Little Rock, Ark., lending agency that was at the center of the Whitewater investigation headed by Kenneth Starr, Law '73. Former U.S. Rep. Jan Meyers, R-Kan., chair of the House Small Business Committee, called for an ethics probe regarding Bowles involvement in the Whitewater inquiry.

Although there was no actual investigation, the incident fueled criticism that Bowles ascribed to "Clintonian" ethics.

Bowles returned to Charlotte in 1996 to help found the merchant bank Carousel Capital. But in December of that same year, Clinton asked Bowles to return to Washington as his chief of staff.

Bowles' most notable accomplishment during his tenure as chief of staff was his effort to balance the federal budget. Bowles resigned as chief of staff in November 1998, returning to Charlotte where he resumed his responsibilities as managing director of Carousel Capital.

Though 250 miles from Washington, Bowles remained in public service. Then-governor Jim Hunt tapped Bowles in 1999 to head a commission studying the economic conditions of rural North Carolina.

"[Bowles'] organizational skills and experience allowed us to work through this complex task in a most efficient and effective manner," said Cecil Groves, president of Southwestern Community College, who worked with Bowles on the 21-member commission.

"I was extremely impressed with his ability to deal with such a complex item involving a large number of people and making something come out of that in a very rapid period of time," she said.

After six months of research, Bowles presented Hunt with recommendations for a multi-billion dollar plan of rebuilding and revitalizing in rural North Carolina-with an emphasis on improving infrastructure.

Groves argued that Bowles' experience with the task force put him in touch with North Carolinians from all walks of life and negates claims that his Washington experience isolates him from local interests.

"[Bowles is] a person who gets things done," Groves explained. "He's not inclined to be passive or coast through anything. He's very much intent on making something happen."

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