IDB appoints Brian O'Neill as new executive vice president and COO

Brian O’Neill, former U.S. Treasury official and newly appointed executive vice president and chief operating officer for the Inter-American Development Bank. Photo from: Ergo

WASHINGTON — The Inter-American Development Bank has named former U.S. Treasury official Brian O’Neill to serve as executive vice president and chief operating officer.

O’Neill was approved by the IDB Board of Directors on Dec. 14 and will begin his new role in January. He has over 40 years of experience in banking in Latin America, most recently as a senior advisor at Lazard, an international financial advisory and asset management firm. He served as acting U.S. director at the IDB for five months in 2008.

“He to me is the perfect example of someone who can go from the private sector to the public sector and do it seamlessly, because he builds relationships,” former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson told Devex, when asked about O’Neill. “He’s a superb banker and a deal doer. And to do that, you need to find common ground. He’s results oriented and he really knows the region, and he’s a really hard worker.”

Paulson said he brought in O’Neill, who served as deputy assistant secretary of the Treasury from 2007 until January 2009, because of his expertise in and understanding of Latin America. O’Neill was tasked with promoting policies to create jobs and economic growth in the region, and Paulson said he was effective because of his ability to work collaboratively and listen.

“He came to Treasury because he wanted to get things done and I think the IDB is a great platform right now when you look at the innovative things they’re doing in the areas of green finance, infrastructure. It’s really very exciting," Paulson said in an interview. "He’s got the necessary skill sets, having operated for a long time in the region. Whether it’s Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, or Peru, he’s very effective.”

While there’s no official rule, there is an unwritten understanding that the IDB’s executive vice president is always a U.S. citizen. The bank’s president, Luis Alberto Moreno, is responsible for proposing a candidate, which must then be approved by the majority shareholder — the U.S. Department of the Treasury. After Treasury approves, the candidate is put forward for a vote by the Board of Executive Directors.

O’Neill replaces Julie Katzman, who was appointed in December 2010, serving eight years in the post. Her predecessor served for three years.

As executive vice president, O’Neill will be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the IDB, as well as advising the president on corporate planning issues. He will select other senior staff and implement business and strategic operations. The executive vice president is also responsible for quality control and risk management, and performance evaluations of other vice presidents.

Before his time at Treasury during the George W. Bush administration, O’Neill had a 30-year career with JPMorgan Chase, where he was responsible for business in Latin America and Canada. He has lived in Santiago, Chile; Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Sao Paulo, Brazil.

“He has deep knowledge of Latin America, banking, and the U.S. government, all of which will make him invaluable at IDB, particularly during the challenging times.”

— Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Americas Society and Council of the Americas, speaking of O’Neill

Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Americas Society and Council of the Americas, called O’Neill “an inspired choice” to serve as the IDB executive vice president.

“He has deep knowledge of Latin America, banking, and the U.S. government, all of which will make him invaluable at IDB, particularly during the challenging times. He's a steady hand and a creative thinker, and his counsel will directly inform strategic directions and decisions for the bank,” Farnsworth said.

“‎More than that, he's thoughtful and personable, two qualities that seem to be in short supply these days in Washington,” Farnsworth continued.

O’Neill is a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a senior advisor at Lexington Partners. He has been a director at the Inter-American Dialogue, the Council of the Americas, Emigrant Bank, CorpBanca, and the Latin American Agribusiness Development Corporation, among others.

“There’s a lot of challenges in the region, around economic growth and a great need for economic and political stability,” Paulson said. “This is a critically important time for IDB to make a difference in Latin America and I’m just glad Brian’s skills will be put to good use.”

About the author

  • Teresa Welsh

    Teresa Welsh has reported from more than 10 countries and is currently based in Washington, D.C. Her coverage focuses on Latin America; U.S. foreign assistance policy; fragile states; food systems and nutrition; and refugees and migration. Prior to joining Devex, Teresa worked at McClatchy's Washington Bureau and covered foreign affairs for U.S. News and World Report. She was a reporter in Colombia, where she previously lived teaching English. Teresa earned bachelor of arts degrees in journalism and Latin American studies from the University of Wisconsin.