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5E Observer

2018, Issue 2

Roland Costa Retires: A Career Marked by Currency, Inclusiveness and Karaoke

Roland Costa

There’s a saying in Fed currency circles that there are three marquee events each year: the global Banknote conference, the Cash Product Office all-hands meeting and Roland Costa’s annual karaoke party.

“You’d be surprised at how karaoke can bring people together and break down barriers,” says Roland, who is retiring in June after a 34-year career with the Bank — including nearly two decades with the Currency Technology Office, or CTO, headquartered in Richmond.

Roland (standing second from right) and his Fed colleagues have some fun together at his annual karaoke party.

Breaking down — and through — barriers has been at the heart of Roland’s career, both in the currency world and as a champion of diversity. Among his key accomplishments are working on the Fed’s initial email system in the mid-1980s; building one of the first cash computer applications that was used by five other Reserve Banks in the early 1990s; leading upgrades to the Fed’s currency processing equipment in the early 2000s; and more recently spearheading the NextGeneration program for currency-processing equipment, which includes a partnership with the European Central Bank.

“One of Roland’s favorite sayings is, ‘I don’t feel constrained by the laws of physics,’” explains Andy McAllister, who has worked with Roland in the CTO during much of their careers. “I learned from Roland the power of big vision and setting aside for a moment all the reasons why something couldn’t be done.”

Roland began his career at the Richmond Fed in 1984 as a lead software systems programmer and analyst. He joined the CTO in 1997 and held a number of officer positions, including being named chief technology officer in 2003. He was promoted to senior vice president in 2010.

Mark Mullinix, who recently retired as our Bank’s first vice president and previously led the Cash Product Office in San Francisco, has worked with Roland since 2001.

“Roland has become well-known for gathering other ‘believers’ around him to enhance the Fed’s currency authentication and processing activities using what I often refer to as ‘his Brooklyn-style of leadership and communicating,’” Mark says. “His is an influential voice among international banknote executives, where he has paved the way for improved processing methods and sensor capabilities, as well as pressed for common industry standards. It’s not an exaggeration to say that his reputation in the international banknote community is sterling. Roland has long ‘led from the top’ in mentoring others and promoting diversity and inclusive behavior within our District and the System. I am certain that these contributions will endure.”

The son of a Puerto Rican father and Italian mother, Roland traces his passion for diversity and inclusion to his childhood, including an incident when a man shooed the five-year-old off a front stoop with a racial slur. “When I became a leader, I wanted to be one who treated all with respect,” he explains.

“I appreciate Roland’s genuine passion for helping people of diverse backgrounds and ethnicities to grow in the workplace,” says Janiel Youngblood of Corporate Accounting, who chaired the Bank’s VITAL employee resource network, which Roland sponsored.

Markus Summers, vice president of our Law Enforcement Unit, credits Roland’s work leading NextGen as an example of demonstrating the business case for diversity and inclusion. “This project is bringing new and globally diverse vendors and their technology into a U.S. Reserve Bank’s cash operations environment, which is unprecedented.”

“Roland is a visionary leader who has always challenged the status quo,” said Niranjan Chandramowli, CTO vice president. "I have appreciated how accessible he is to the team; always available to coach, mentor and share his insights with staff members. Roland leaves behind a strong legacy.”

Roland will miss the people at work and their commitment to the Fed’s public service as well. “Their dedication and the intellectual stimulation I’ve experienced at the Fed are second to none,” he explains. He looks forward to spending more time with his family, including nine grandchildren, playing more golf, and perhaps staying connected to currency through consulting.

There’ll also be karaoke. Andy recalls Roland, always striving to be inclusive, would “move mountains” to find a song for each person that they could sing. “One year Roland found ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ for my three-year-old daughter so she could participate. Although she buried her head in my shoulder for most of the song, she never forgot about singing karaoke at Mr. Roland’s house,” Andy says. “Roland taught me the power of hospitality and grace.”

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