Stephen Calk, founder and chairman of Chicago-based The Federal Savings Bank, has been named to Donald Trump‘s economic team. The appointment makes Calk one of the most visible Chicago business leaders publicly supporting the Republican presidential nominee.
“I consider it a great honor,” says Calk, who over the years has offered his business insight to lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle.
He defended Trump as the candidate has taken hits for making discriminatory comments at political rallies.
“Those are gross mischaracterizations,” says Calk, a hockey dad who was a Boy Scout and Army helicopter pilot. “In my personal interactions with Mr. Trump, I have never found him to be sexist or racist in any way. I think he’s an American who speaks what’s on his mind. I don’t think he’s a perfect politician. That allows him to have his words picked apart and mischaracterized.”
Calk’s focus is the economy. He’ll advise Trump on banking regulation and oversight, community banking, consumer lending and housing.
“I’m not a politician. I’m a businessman,” says Calk, who first met Trump years ago at a charity function.
“He was personable and soft-spoken,” he says, painting a portrait that contradicts the brash politician Trump’s become. “He was interested in me as a businessperson and as someone who was a military officer and a family man. He liked that I was an entrepreneur who built my business.”
The 51-year-old businessman was born in Detroit, one of four children. His mom was a teacher and his dad worked in sales for International Latex Corp. The job took the family to London during Calk’s grade-school years. He also spent a brief time in Germany on an exchange program.
“Living in Europe shaped how I look at the world,” Calk says during an interview.
Calk’s family returned to the United States, first to Florida and then the suburbs of Chicago. It was an easy transition, he says, calling Chicago “a melting pot of cultures and religions. It’s what I grew up with.”
He graduated from Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, attended the U.S. Military Academy’s West Point Prep and then University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign on an Army scholarship. He studied speech communication and marketing.
He was commissioned a second lieutenant and went on to Army flight school — his dream was to fly helicopters.
While on active and reserve status from 1985 to 2001, Calk started a mortgage banking company in Chicago that grew to have national reach. He later founded The Federal Savings Bank, now one of the largest privately held bank home-lenders in the country. It’s a federally chartered national bank with annual asset turnover of more than $4 billion.
“I remember how hard it was to get a loan,” he says of starting a business. “So many people get turned down for small loans, personal loans, small-business loans. My goal was to make it easier.”
Calk, a single dad to three children ages 13, 12 and 9, continues to juggle work and school. He’s seven years into a nine-year post-graduate program at Harvard Business School. “It’s a big commitment. But it’s been an incredible opportunity to build a global network and be surrounded by some of the greatest business minds in the world,” he says of the international program.
The Chicago banker declines to talk specifics about Trump’s economic plan, saying he’ll wait until the GOP nominee unveils it Monday. Stephen Moore, another member of the economic team says reducing the corporate tax rate is at the heart of Trump’s agenda.
Names of the economic team were announced late Friday, and the list drew criticism right away for being heavy on Wall Street names and light on women and minorities — there are none. Members include New York hedge-fund executives Steven Feinberg and John Paulson and billionaires Harold Hamm and Andy Beal.
Calk takes issue with the criticisms.
“I’m not some Wall Street banker,” he says. “I support veteran housing issues and first-time home buyers. I’m in the field every day helping Americans buy first homes, small business loans, construction loans, in a safe and sound manner.”
On the team’s lack of diversity, Calk — one of six Steves on the team — says Trump isn’t finished putting people in place.
Read more from Shia Kapos at shiakapos.com.