Neil's Heroes: Diane Swonk

This is a partial transcript from "Your World with Neil Cavuto," June 9, 2004, that was edited for clarity.

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NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: There’s a reason I included my next guest as one of the heroes in my new book, "More Than Money." And not only because she can talk and I can’t. I’m talking about the chief economist of Bank One, Diane Swonk, who had to overcome quite a bit, didn’t you?

DIANE SWONK, BANK ONE CORPORATION: I have, I guess. I didn’t think about overcoming it as I went through it. But I grew up dyslexic. It’s a learning — they call it a disability. I think it’s actually an ability now, because I think outside of the box.

I couldn’t read properly. I had to sort of cut — cut part of the chainsaw, is how I used to say it. But my father always said to me, "You know, if you can’t do it the way they say to do it, find another way to do it. Do it another way."

CAVUTO: Did this make you empathize with people?

SWONK: I think that is one of the key things is — well, there are two things. In some ways it makes you harder because you have already gone through a lot yourself, and so you expect other people to work just as hard to overcome even less in life. And so I have high expectations of people. But I also — I’ve worked as a maid, I’ve worked as a hostess, I’ve worked as — at a Burger Chef. Now, I worked with career waitresses in my life. And when do you that, and you see, you know, some of the hardships I saw growing up in Detroit as well, you can’t help but be sympathetic and more empathetic with people and understand that life is more than a 9:00 to 5:00 job.

In fact, we don’t work to live — or live to work. We work to live. And there is a whole life that goes around it. And its even in my group.

We have a very tight-knit group that I work with. And everyone is an individual, but I am just very respectful of who they are as people because, if I do that, they get the most out of me and give the most back to me as well. And I think part of that humanity is what working is all about. So you are with these people all the time. You’ve got to make it fun.

CAVUTO: But you are an economist.

SWONK: Can’t have fun as an economist? No, economics — I mean, my brain, the way it works, thinking multi-dimensionally, not literally — I don’t think in a straight line, which most people who know me know that I don’t think in a straight line. But being able to think about multiple things at once is an ability for me. So my learning disability is an ability, turn lemons into lemonade.

But for me, what I do, you know, I’m passionate about it. And I couldn’t choose — I feel most fortunate in the world to be able to not only think about the world and how people’s lives are going to be affected by different changes, but also talk to policymakers and maybe have an influence by letting them know how their changes and what they do are affecting people on main street.

I feel like I’m a bridge of some sort in between policymakers and main street. I get to walk on a production floor, I get to, in my job, see the real world. I also get to work with academics who live in ivory towers but are really bright and have wonderful ideas. And then I get this third aspect of being able to talk to Alan Greenspan, you know? I mean, what a thrill in life to sit down with people and have them actually say, you know, I agree with you, or I don’t agree with you, but at least be part of the debate.

CAVUTO: But do you think if you didn’t have the educational issues you did that you would be where you are now?

SWONK: No. I mean, Neil, I think when someone has learned to pick themselves up and dust themselves off and keep going, despite it, that is what makes you strong, and it’s what makes you keep reaching.

There is always a bigger mountain to climb. And so my life is never - - it’s kind of the Nike — you know, I hate to say it, but it’s kind of the Nike logo of "Just do it." But in my life, you just had to do it.

And I realized at one point in time, when my daughter had to write something for a class on describing herself, she said — she had to describe herself with four simple words. And it was "I don’t give up." And I realized I had passed that onto her as well, and that was when she was seven.

So now I have a lot to deal with. She’s nine-and-a-half. But they don’t — my kids also believe you have to keep trying.

CAVUTO: Do they have educational disabilities or anything like that?

SWONK: As far as we can tell, they don’t, because it tends to be genetic. But I watch it really closely. And, you know, I’m just humbled by — any parent is humbled by how brilliant their children and how much really you don’t know in this world until you have children.

CAVUTO: Diane Swonk, thank you very much.

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