After studying economics and business administration at Iowa State University and the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Lea went straight into the academic arena. He taught at Cornell University in the early 1980s and was tenured.
However, he heard Washington, D.C., calling with the opportunity to help shape national policy, and joined Freddie Mac. Through the mid-1980s, Lea served as Freddie Mac's chief economist.
After four years, he headed to San Diego with an opportunity from the now-defunct Imperial Savings. The bank went under in late 1990, and Lea had to go back to the drawing board with his career plans.
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