Character and Characters

Daniel Webster once said that America had furnished the character of George Washington to the world. If our American institutions had done nothing else, Webster said, “that alone would have entitled them to the respect of mankind.”

No doubt Ken Guenther and Bill Seidman would both recoil at being compared to the father of our country, but it does strike me that banking in America has clearly become an institution that has a profound influence on who we are as a nation. And in the line-up of personalities who have profoundly influenced banking in this country over the past three decades, the names Guenther and Seidman figure prominently.

The arm-wrestling motif on the cover of this issue is a fitting characterization of two people who have never shied away from a tussle when principle was at stake. These are not uniformly popular men. They haven’t sought popularity. They’ve said to senators and congressmen and even presidents exactly what they say publicly and what they deem to be right.

I’ve known Bill Seidman since we became partners in starting Bank Director in 1990. I’ve never once heard him say anything he didn’t believe to be the truth. I didn’t always like it. I often didn’t agree with it. But because I never doubted his sincerity, that friction has been a positive force in building this magazine. This country has benefited greatly from the principled stands he has taken as an adviser to presidents, as head of the FDIC and RTC, and as a private citizen who acts as a consultant to nations and to major corporations.

Likewise, Ken Guenther is a man of principle. He has consistently stood for the strengthening of community banks in the United States and, in doing so, has invoked the wrath of some of the nation’s most powerful people. Many would creditu00e2u20ac”or blameu00e2u20ac”Ken Guenther for the populous bank landscape in this country, for fighting as he has for broad FDIC insurance coverage, and for the product and branching limitations on large banks that have unquestionably slowed the move to national banking consolidation. Yet no one has ever questioned Ken Guenther’s integrity and no one can make a case that he was ever a hired gun whose lobbying skills and Rolodex were for sale to the highest bidder.

Character, as we have seen from the Enrons and the Tycos and the Adelphias of the world, can make or break a company or an industry. As Bill Seidman points out in the interview in this issue, we have a banking system that has largely avoided the excesses and the abuses of corporate governance that have weakened so many other industries. The activities of both Ken Guenther and Bill Seidman have played no small part in making that possible.

We are living through a time when both character and characters are in short supply. Being “out of the mainstream” has become political suicide. Speaking out publicly on issues, in business and in public service, has become less frequent and, when practiced, has too often become a bad career move. Stands of conscience, the kind of “defining moments” mentioned in the Guenther/Seidman colloquy, have become few and far between, and often they are so tepid as to be unworthy of the name.

We need Ken Guenthers and Bill Seidmans in our industry. May they remain outspoken, and may they serve as role models for bankers and directors for whom “just going along” just doesn’t feel right anymore.

Join OUr Community

Bank Director’s annual Bank Services Membership Program combines Bank Director’s extensive online library of director training materials, conferences, our quarterly publication, and access to FinXTech Connect.

Become a Member

Our commitment to those leaders who believe a strong board makes a strong bank never wavers.