Guenther, Ken - Oral History Interview

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Kenneth Guenther ‘59 attended the University of Rochester and was a key student in their new Non-Western civilizations program focusing on South and Southeast Asia. Upon graduating, he attended SAIS which was very different at that time. The campus was a former girl’s school on Florida Avenue and it was small. The library was the former women’s gymnasium, and still had the aroma of sneakers. Life at SAIS consisted of lectures, research and taking tests while interacting with a diverse and fascinating faculty and student base. One of Guenther’s most significant and eccentric professors at SAIS was Paul Linebarger, the professor who taught about then Communist China, and Taiwan. Linebarger had a glass eye. Occasionally he would take it out and roll it on the table at any offending student. At that time, the Southeast Asian program was still in the formation stage. SAIS was exploring the establishment of permanent Study centers in Indonesia and Burma. They had a little center in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. In 1954 SAIS decided to establish the Rangoon Hopkins Center for Southeast Asian Studies in Rangoon, Burma. In l959 this Center was headed by a senior professor, William Johnstone. While at SAIS Washington Guenther remembers two fine economics professors Professor Phillips and Isaiah Frank. There was a small student body but already back then a very interesting international mix. His roommate was a Coptic Christian Egyptian named Samir Zoghby whose father had run the Suez Cana. There we three Italian graduate students, one Finn, one Indonesian complimenting a diverse American base. In 1955 through l957 while Guenther was at the non-Western civilizations program at the University of Rochester, he became a disciple of Harry J Benda. While Guenther was in Burma, Benda went to Yale. When Guenther returned home from Burma, he began his Ph.D. studies at Yale under Dr. Benda. Guenther then decided he wasn’t an academic and wanted to be actively engaged in more practical work. He went down the path of joining the Foreign Service and, after some way stops, ultimately did so in 1965.The Foreign Service sent him to Chile from 1966 to 1968. He next worked for a Senator Jacob K. Javits of New York. Then Guenther accepted a presidential appointment as the Alternate U.S. Executive Director of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) from 1973 to 1974. Through a series of events, Guenther then became the acting STR at the White House for six months in 1974 to 1975. Guenther left the White House later in 1975 to head up the Federal Reserve Board’s office of Congressional Relations. He served under Chairman Burns, Miller and Volcker and was instrumental in securing the passage of the Depository Institutions Deregulation and Monetary Control Act of 1980, the first major banking deregulation law which also buttressed the Fed’s monetary powers. Then at age 44, Guenther left the government and went into banking. In the private sector, he headed up the national trade association representing community banks (the Independent Community Bankers of America, ICBA) retiring in 2004. He received The AMERICAN BANKER’S prestigious lifetime achievement award in 2005. In retirement Guenther served on corporate and non-profit boards including as chairman of the Washington Campus and as an executive volunteer of the AARP Foundation’s money management programs serving the indigent elderly. He also has written a financial blog. Guenther advises today’s SAIS students that “your life’s and career ball is going to bounce in ways you really cannot predict, but SAIS will provide you with the foundation to be able to continuing playing ever more responsible and demanding “tennis”. Be flexible. Strongly consider going to the study Centers in Bologna or Nanjing—it is a missed opportunity if you don’t."
AARP, Mao Zedong, Korean War, Pinochet, Augusto, Javits, Jacob K., Indonesia, Frank, Isaiah, Yale University, University of Rangoon, Independent Community Bankers of America, Ford, Gerald, Thayer, Dean, Nasser, Gamal Abdel, Southeast Asia, Phillips, Bill, Suez Canal, Inter-American Development Bank, Sheshunoff/Pratt, Linebarger, Paul, Nixon, Richard, Jackson-Vanik Amendment, Rangoon Hopkins Center for Southeast Asian Studies, SAIS, Benda, Harry J., Special Trade Representative, Chiang Kai-shek, Burma, Schultz, George, Kuomintang, Washington Campus, Foreign Service, Johnstone, William, Allende, Salvador, Eisenhower, Dwight D., Seidman, L. William, Törnudd, Klaus, Kissinger, Henry, Chile, University of Rochester