I was saddened to learn of the Jan. 25 death of Kenneth Guenther, the leader of the Independent Community Bankers of America from 1982 to 2004. When I bought this magazine to start NFR Communications in 1992, Guenther was one of the first people to reach out to me. “Admirable and gutsy move,” he wrote. “I like independent publications — Backbone of America, sort of like community banks.”
Long before there was texting, there was the “Guenther-gram.” Ken Guenther was known for his short missives, usually pounded out on a typewriter. These notes were legendary among people who followed the inner workings of the banking lobby. I was honored to receive a few via fax. I was intrigued to read a transcript of an interview with Guenther conducted in 2008 as part of the Federal Reserve Oral History project. In it, Guenther explained the origins of the Guenther-gram. He started writing them when he worked for Sen. Jacob Javits.
“How do you communicate with a very busy man?” Guenter asked in reference to the Senator from New York. “I communicated by typing up these quick and dirty little notes, and sending them to the senator. And he always read them. If something was important or caught his interest, he’d scrawl ‘C me’ on the note and send it back.” Guenther said the notes were effective also for communicating with Fed Chair Arthur Burns, for whom he also worked for a time. Later, Guenther-grams facilitated the flow of information during the debates over FIRREA, FDICIA, Riegle-Neal, and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act.
I remember talking to Guenther at the 1992 ICBA convention in San Antonio. I commented that the Guenther-grams seemed to be a little cleaner lately — fewer retyped letters and crossed out words. He commented that he had recently switched from a manual typewriter to an electric model with a corrections feature. He said it was a gift from his staff. Why a new typewriter? Guenther told me he suffered from tennis elbow and the electric typewriter was much easier on the muscles in his arm than the old manual model.
Like many influential leaders, Guenther was controversial, but for me, he was a larger-than-life figure who shaped my understanding of the banking industry at the outset of my career. He is a person who made a difference that may be measured one written note (or Guenther-gram) at a time.