Robert K. Wilmouth spent 25 years at First National Bank of Chicago before becoming the Chicago Board of Trade’s president and CEO and then the National Futures Association’s founding president and CEO.
Wilmouth was responsible for the planning and construction of the 60-story First National Plaza — now known as Chase Tower — in the Loop and also played a key role in setting up First Chicago’s credit card operations and expanding its international branch network.
“He was a terrific leader and just a wonderful person,” said former First Chicago Corp. Chairman A. Robert Abboud. “He was very important in the operations of the bank. I also used him internationally, and he performed well there, too.”
Wilmouth, 88, died of complications from lymphoma on Sept. 14 at the Solana Deer Park assisted living facility in Deer Park, said his daughter, Anne-Marie Kaiser. He had been a Barrington-area resident for almost 50 years, his daughter said.
Born in Worcester, Mass., Wilmouth graduated from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester in 1949. He earned a master’s degree from the University of Notre Dame in 1950.
Right after graduating from Notre Dame, Wilmouth took a job working in the mailroom at the First National Bank of Chicago. After serving in the Air Force from 1951 until 1953, Wilmouth returned to the bank.
Wilmouth was responsible for the installation of the bank’s computer complex and then oversaw the planning and construction of its new office tower, which was completed in 1969. He also helped launch the bank’s credit card operation.
In 1970, Wilmouth became general manager of First National’s office in London. The following year, he was named to oversee operations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and he then took over the bank’s entire international banking department in 1973.
In 1974, Wilmouth was named executive vice president and head of commercial banking.
Wilmouth saw his path to the top of the bank blocked by a management realignment in 1973. Eager to become a bank president, Wilmouth got his chance in 1975, when he was named president of the Crocker National Bank in San Francisco.
In late 1977, Wilmouth left Crocker to become the Board of Trade’s president, despite lacking direct experience in commodities trading or administration. However, as a banker, he had a history of dealing with government regulations, and under his leadership of the futures exchange, he sought to expand into other futures contracts.
Wilmouth also witnessed firsthand the fractiousness at the Board of Trade during his tenure, where the old-time grain traders, whose activity once was the exchange’s mainstay, often found themselves at odds with a growing group of members interested only in new financial futures. He also led the exchange during the construction of a 23-story addition.
In 1982, Wilmouth left the Board of Trade to oversee the newly created National Futures Association, a self-regulatory body for the futures industry. CME Group Chairman Emeritus and financial futures pioneer Leo Melamed personally recommended Wilmouth for the job.
“I could not have picked a better, more qualified administrator,” Melamed said. “He started and built from scratch an organization that today is one of the biggest self-regulating organizations in the world. He was able to represent us in Congress whenever we needed it, and his reputation rose every time he went before Congress. There wasn’t anybody in Congress who didn’t speak well of Bob Wilmouth.”
Melamed called Wilmouth “good with words, and he understood what I was trying to do.”
“I was trying to make the futures industry, which was really at the time still the Wild West, into a respectable industry with solid responsibilities in cleaning up violations and so forth, and I needed somebody who could understand the reason and rationale for building up this organization and someone who was willing to devote energies and talents to making it an outstanding regulatory arm,” Melamed said.
Wilmouth ran the National Futures Association for 20 years, stepping down in 2002 at age 73. However, he stayed on as a special policy adviser until 2008.
Wilmouth served on the University of Notre Dame’s board of trustees from 1975 until his death, and chaired its investment committee. After retiring, Wilmouth divided his time between Barrington Hills and a home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Upon his death, the Notre Dame Institute for Global Investing established the Robert K. Wilmouth lecture series.
Wilmouth’s wife, Ellen, died in 2014. In addition to his daughter, he is survived by four sons, Robert, James, John and Thomas; and seven grandchildren.
Services were held.
Bob Goldsborough is a freelance reporter.