The 2024 Thompson Medal presentation. Left to right: Benedictine College student speaker Kelly Krebs, Benedictine College President Stephen D. Minnis, honoree Esther George, and Country Club Bank CEO Paul Thompson.

Benedictine’s Thompson Center Honors Esther George with 2024 Thompson Medal

On April 17, 2024, Benedictine College’s Byron G. Thompson Center for Integrity in Finance and Economics awarded its annual Thompson Medal to Esther George, former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. This award, given in conjunction with Country Club Bank of Kansas City, recognizes an individual in business who exemplifies integrity and competence, as well as making significant contributions to both their sphere of business and their community.

Paul Thompson, CEO and Chairman of Country Club Bank and son of the Thompson Center’s namesake, the late Byron Thompson, reminded attendees that the purpose of the Thompson Center is to inspire young Benedictine students to success through faith and integrity.

“In creating the Byron G. Thompson Center for Integrity in Finance and Economics, it is our collective hope that the young men and women who are involved in the Center at Benedictine College will emulate Byron Thompson,” he said. “We hope that his legacy will serve to motivate and inspire other Ravens to be faith-filled people of integrity whose own principled leadership will leave an indelibly positive impact on the world around them, not unlike the influence that Byron has left on his family, friends, industry and community.”

One of those students, Kelly Krebs, a Benedictine senior majoring in Finance and Marketing, spoke at the event to attest to the inspiring work of both the Thompson Center and the whole of Benedictine’s School of Business. She highlighted the investment of the school’s professors in their students, as well as the department’s integrity and commitment to free markets and virtue. She expressed her gratitude to the Thompson Center for the resources it provides for her growth as a young businessperson.

“In my time here, I have been formed by some amazing professors and role models. I have found mentors and friendships that I’m confident will last far beyond college,” she said. “While I knew that I would study business, I didn’t realize how seamlessly my professors would connect business concepts to our identity as Catholics and our vocation as business leaders, integrating a religious maturity that will help guide our careers after college.”

After receiving the award, Esther George reflected on her 40-year career in public service with the Federal Reserve, emphasizing the importance of integrity, humility, and serving the needs of the community and what she learned through her association with Byron Thompson.

“Byron Thompson was a different kind of banker,” George said. “He wasn’t in the business to make a name for himself, but to serve the needs of his community. He didn’t just talk about integrity. He practiced it in the way he lived his life and how he ran his banking business. I will never forget a meeting with him and other members of his team when they came to the Kansas City Fed to ask us about our supervisory approach and philosophy. He said ‘I hope you will not hesitate to tell us what we’re doing wrong because we want to get it right and we want to do better.’ So, if you knew Byron Thompson, you were better because of him, and I certainly know I was better as a bank examiner and as a policymaker for knowing him.”

She went on to discuss the Federal Reserve’s response to financial crises and the current economic outlook, highlighting three areas of concern: the Fed’s monetary policy, congressional fiscal policy, and international relations and turmoil. She emphasized the need for effective leadership and collaboration to navigate economic challenges and ensure the well-being of the financial community and the country.

“If you look back over the last four years, I think it’s easy enough to say forecasting was not an easy business,” she said. “The U.S. economy has refused to cooperate with any number of forecasts.”

She noted that after the Fed’s aggressive interest rate tightening in 2022, people were quite sure 2023 was going to bring a recession, only to find out that the economy would continue to grow, the labor market would remain strong, and inflation would begin to move down from its peak, giving economists and policy makers hope that a “soft landing” would be the outcome. She said 2024 has also defied forecasts with continued strong growth, labor market resilience, and persistent inflation. She said there is now uncertainty about any level of interest rate cuts and there is even speculation about possible rate increases. In addition to managing the uncertain economy through traditional interest rate adjustments, she noted that the nation also faces a fiscal policy challenge from lawmakers.

“We have known for some time that our debt in the United States is on an unsustainable path,” George said. “The U.S. has turned a modest budget surplus in 2001 into a nearly $2 trillion deficit today and has tripled the debt to GDP ratio from 32% to nearly 100% and there is no end in sight.”

She said this is something every citizen needs to reach out to their representatives in government and fully express the concern that everyone has. She then talked about the third challenge, the state of the world economy and politics.

“We live in an unsettled world today with conflicts at home and abroad and we’re beginning to see a fairly significant restructuring of our economy in several ways,” George said. “We are seeing the allocation of government funding to different kinds of sectors of the economy, in particular for climate issues. We are seeing supply chains being relocated around the world as companies are thinking more about resilience rather than proficiency.”

She said that she remembers Byron Thompson’s philosophy when she sees the concerns and challenges the nation faces today.

“I think about Byron Thompson and I take to heart the hallmark of his life, resilience in the face of personal and professional challenge,” George said. “We have to have the ability to look ahead with determination and think about how to make things better.”

Stephen D. Minnis, President of Benedictine College, emphasized the light that Benedictine has been in the challenges which have faced the American people since the College’s founding in 1858. He reminded those in attendance where to place their hope for the future, saying “the hope for this country lies in our young people. Benedictine College, along with the Thompson Center, will equip graduates with the skills and understanding to take up leadership positions in society and help transform culture in America.”

Benedictine College

Founded in 1858, Benedictine College is a Catholic, Benedictine, residential, liberal arts college located on the bluffs above the Missouri River in Atchison, Kansas. The school is honored to have been named one of America’s Best Colleges by U.S. News & World Report, the best private college in Kansas by The Wall Street Journal, and one of the top Catholic colleges in the nation by First Things magazine and the Newman Guide. It prides itself on outstanding academics, extraordinary faith life, strong athletic programs, and an exceptional sense of community and belonging. Benedictine College is dedicated to transforming culture in America through its mission to educate men and women within a community of faith and scholarship.