“Being a fireman is fun,” says Christopher Brummer, JD/PhD, AB ’97, “as long as you don’t get burned.”
He’s referring to the schedule he keeps. It’s the Monday of Valentine’s Day week, and in addition to speaking with me, Brummer, a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, will teach two classes — one three-hour course on securities regulation and another seminar on international finance and regulation. Next, there’s a rush trip on Tuesday to New York, to attend a luncheon meeting about the future of transatlantic financial regulatory cooperation. That will be followed by a two-day romantic getaway in the Dominican Republic with his wife, Rachel Loko, an attorney who also specializes in financial regulation. The week will end in Bogota, Colombia, where Brummer will speak to financial regulators at a banking conference on Basel III and the local banking system. In addition, there will be an appearance on NBC News to discuss the Standard & Poor’s securities-rating debacle and, of course, his work with the Atlantic Council, a think tank. It’s a wonder he’s not in flames.
But Brummer, who says he “lives at the intersection of law, finance and politics,” is the type who keeps his cool even though he’s generally found where the action is hottest. And if the Fayetteville, Ark., native seems to be following in the footsteps of his father, Chauncey Brummer, who teaches law at the University of Arkansas, he walked a very circuitous path to get there.
That path began in high school, when a study abroad opportunity took Brummer to Germany for a year. He learned the language and later chose to attend Washington University in St. Louis because of the excellence of its German department. “I had the benefit of the finest undergraduate education in the country,” he says today. “James McLeod, who was then dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, and other professors in the German department like Michael Lützeler and Lutz Koepnick introduced me to the love of learning and the art of thinking critically.” Brummer spent another year in Germany through WUSTL’s study abroad program, and summers in France during graduate school enabled him to become fluent in French.
Brummer then entered a PhD program at the University of Chicago, but he didn’t stop traveling. “Part of my dissertation involved southern Africa, and I spent two years in Namibia and South Africa,” he says. “I learned that the greatest challenge for developing countries was attracting investment capital. I also learned that the greatest skill you can have is knowing how to analyze situations and ask the right questions.”
Those lessons led him to law school at Columbia University, where he focused on business law. After graduating, he was hired to work in Cravath, Swaine & Moore’s New York office, but he didn’t stay long. On his second day, he was sent to Paris, alone, to help close a deal because he could speak the language. He returned to New York just long enough to pack up again and move to the firm’s London office. “Back then, 80 percent of the deals involved German companies, and they needed German-speaking attorneys,” he says.
But Brummer never could escape the siren call of academia, and he left to teach law at Vanderbilt University. A one-year academic fellowship opened up at the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2008, and Brummer’s timing was, as always, impeccable. He was at the SEC when Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy on Sept. 15, 2008, an event that helped trigger the worldwide financial crisis. He joined the faculty at Georgetown in 2009.
“Now I find myself in a fortunate position — to be a professor, do policy-oriented work, travel a lot, and meet smart people,” he says. But, as usual, Brummer’s also in the thick of the action. “How well we cooperate with other countries determines whether or not our banks fail,” he says. “Are banks too big to fail? What are the consequences of too much debt? What is the relationship between international finance and unemployment? I’m the guy who has to explain all those issues.”
In doing so, he seems able to take the heat.
Robert S. Benchley is a freelance writer based in Miami and a new contributor to Washington Magazine.