Growing up in Columbus, Steve Merriett had global ambition — he wanted to explore the world, meet new people and learn about new cultures. Steve parlayed his Fisher degree into a professional adventure that took him from Columbus around the world and back again with stops at some of the most prestigious accounting companies and organizations including a Big Four firm, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), the Federal Reserve Board and the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS).
Graduating from Ohio State meant….
I could burst out of Columbus with confidence and experience all that the larger world has to offer. I grew up in the suburbs of Columbus, Groveport, and lived at home throughout most of my college career. That was terrific — it provided a great environment and plenty of time for me to develop. But I was ready to experience life in the bigger cities, traveling and generally living a more adventurous lifestyle.
Tell us about the path you took to the Federal Reserve.
I started my journey before graduating with an internship at Deloitte in Los Angeles, followed by a year-long Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) internship in Stamford, Connecticut, and public accounting with EY in Chicago. Living in and around three of the biggest cities in the country expanded my horizons and introduced me to some incredible friends and colleagues — ultimately, it also set the stage for international exploration.
I started traveling internationally by pursuing one of my hobbies, bicycling. I trained for and completed biking vacations throughout Europe as well as in Iceland and Vietnam. Seeing foreign lands inch-by-inch while trudging up hills and mountains (I am not a great biker) and meeting the generous people who provided housing and food along the way encouraged me to do more than vacation abroad — I wanted to experience working abroad.
Around that same time, I realized that I wanted to reorient my work toward something mission-based. I had enjoyed starting a consulting practice with a former mentor, but I was longing for a mission backing my work. So I pursued a Master of Public Policy at the University of Chicago and, ultimately, landed a position within the Federal Reserve.
I felt the mission of the Federal Reserve strongly behind my work and I was in a position that permitted as much international travel as I wanted. With regular trips to Basel, Switzerland, and London to work on bank capital and accounting standards supplemented by policy and education sessions throughout the rest of the world, I had an amazing 15 years living in Washington, D.C., and traveling the world. My husband, Antonio Estrada, is from Venezuela, and his work with the Interamerican Development Bank was equally global, so we were in sync on both the benefits and challenges of traveling for work.
In 2016, the Fed gave me an opportunity to transition from my international-facing role as chief accountant to a chief financial/operating officer role within the banking supervision division, an office-based position that eliminated travel and aligned to new, family-oriented goals.
How did your experience (career and educational) help you navigate the 2008 financial crisis as the chief accountant at the Federal Reserve Board? What do you remember about that time? And how did it prepare you for future challenges you faced?
I suspect the financial crisis will be the defining moment of my career. I had no real experience with structured finance, and in many ways that was the core driver of the crisis. Really, the Fed had very little staff experience with structured finance at that time. The financial crisis gave me the opportunity to dive in and become an expert in securitization, repurchase agreements, securities lending, off-balance sheet investment vehicles and many other aspects of structured finance.
Five minutes after I started studying those things, I was involved in policy meetings and I was giving public talks about them. We really had no time for a business-as-usual learning curve and a thorough vetting of work. The rigorous honors accounting program at Fisher and years of public accounting and consulting allowed me to slow everything down for myself and attack the issues head-on. The reputation I gained from that experience drove my success at the Fed and opened my professional network to the top influencers in accounting, banking and finance. Being able to learn something so complex quickly and communicate about it almost immediately is part skill but I think it’s a bigger part training and practice. I credit the honors accounting program for a great foundation in that regard.
Tell us about some of your recent accomplishments.
On a personal level, I met my husband late in life and we started our family even later. Thanks to my sister carrying as a surrogate, we had our first daughter, Clara, in 2016. And thanks to another carrier, we had our second daughter, Elise, in 2020, and we are expecting a third daughter in February of 2022. Having an entire family via surrogacy is exceptionally complicated and challenging — that joint accomplishment with Antonio far exceeds any other accomplishments.
Professionally, my most recent accomplishment has been to transitioning to a new job and relocating back to Columbus. I was seeking a position that would leverage my financial background, give me exposure to a new industry, help me build new skills and, most importantly, keep me close to home with our girls.
As the assistant director at OPERS, I oversee investment accounting, operations and compliance for their $120+ billion investment portfolio I am experiencing the asset management industry in an operating role — both firsts for me.
How has Fisher equipped, prepared you or made a difference in your career?
From a soft skills perspective, the focus on speaking and writing was critical. The skills I developed at Fisher to speak in front of a group and write technical material appropriate for any audience have been a consistent advantage throughout my career. From a technical perspective, all the coding classes I took in pursuing a second major in MIS were instrumental for me to adapt during a period of incredible technological change over the course of my career.
Did you have a favorite spot on campus? Why was it special?
The Orton Hall library. It was a beautiful and ideal place to study when I needed total focus.
Do you have a favorite business faculty member or mentor who helped shape who you are today?
Without a doubt, T.J. Burns. He encouraged me to challenge myself in his exceptionally tough classes, through completing an honors thesis and by pursuing the postgraduate FASB internship. He also encouraged me to look at myself and decide whether I liked what I saw. Some would consider his advice and comments to be inappropriate — like your hair is too long for public accounting and you are spending too much time on things that are easy and irrelevant. He continued taking an interest in me and my career long beyond my graduation, which meant so much. He could ask questions and give advice like no one else, all while sharing a Wendy’s Frosty.
What advice would you give to a current student or recent Fisher graduate?
Be courageous — define your goals and stick to them relentlessly. Your goals will change over time and there will be plenty of pressures to deviate but you will reach your goals over and over again if you stay focused and work toward them consistently.