Class of 1964, BS
Policymakers on the Federal Reserve’s interest-rate setting Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) are primarily Ph.D. economists, but there are exceptions, including Virginia Tech’s own industrial engineering (IE) graduate Jack Guynn.
Guynn, who is president and chief executive officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, graduated from Virginia Tech in 1964, and he has spent his entire career with the Federal Reserve Bank.
Why would an IE graduate go to work for the nation’s central bank? “I chose the Fed because it was clear in 1964 that the banking industry had never really had the benefit of an engineer’s way of thinking about things. Banking, compared to other industries, was fertile territory for an engineer.”
Guynn’s early successes, including the design and installation of some of the Fed’s first computer programs for processing checks, gave him an early boost in his career. He went on to hold a wide variety of assignments in the bank, assuming his current position as its 13th president and chief executive officer (CEO) in January of 1996. In this position, the IE-trained president is in charge of all of the bank’s activities, including monetary policy, supervision and regulation, and operations.
Guynn and other presidents of the 11 additional Federal Reserve Banks in the U.S. serve on the FOMC, meeting every six to eight weeks in Washington, D.C. Together with Ben Bernanke (Alan Greenspan’s successor) and the other six members of the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors, they seek to keep prices stable and economic growth at its maximum sustainable rate. They are decision makers who adjust certain interest rates, as needed, to help guide the U.S. economy.
Guynn’s job with its immense responsibility for economic policy making, combined with the other demands of running an organization of some 2,600 employees in six southeastern cities, is a demanding one.
Guynn is one of six non-Ph.D. economists on the FOMC. Assisting him with his study of economic issues and policy options is a staff of 24 Ph.D. economists and a large analytical support staff at the Atlanta Fed. Guynn says that although he has been involved in the bank’s economic briefings for more than 35 years, the issues are always changing and there are always new things to understand and to take into account.
Guynn is a self-proclaimed pragmatist, and explains that he thinks part of his success in economics stems from his appreciation of economist Herb Stein’s “aversion to economic jargon. Stein tried to make economic ideas understandable to everyone. I also appreciated his open-mindedness. He (Stein) once claimed he was a member of the ‘Don’t Know’ school of economics.” To continually update himself on current issues and unfolding events, Guynn reads the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times daily, as well as a host of other technical papers, e-mails, and other communications from business people.
Guynn gives much of the credit for his success to his parents, both long-time public school teachers who lived in a rural community near Staunton, Virginia. “I lived a very simple life growing up, without the many distractions that young people often face today. I hunted and fished, and was a member of the Boy Scouts and the church youth group. I probably didn’t realize it at the time, but it was a wholesome and a very special way to grow up.”
Today’s bank president once earned his spending money from a paper route and worked for the county school system’s maintenance department, where he painted school houses, shoveled coal to restock the school coal bins over the summer, and did some other not-so-glamorous jobs.
Guynn has fond memories of growing up in a modest apartment complex that was formerly an old Army barracks. He recounts that the old Army post that served as a World War II medical complex and rehabilitation center was later given to the county government to be used as a high school and as living quarters for teachers and school administrators. “And although the spartan apartments had no heat after about 9:00 p.m. each night, and a glass of water next to my bed would often be frozen in the morning,” he says, “it was a fun and wholesome environment in which to grow up.”
Those former barracks outside Staunton served as a precursor to his Corps of Cadets’ lifestyle while he attended Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering. “The corps provided me with a continuation of the discipline and integrity that I grew up with,” Guynn says.
He chose industrial engineering because of the opportunity to blend the traditional engineering with business issues and problem solving. The IE training provided a background for Guynn to develop his management style. Following his undergraduate work, Guynn went on to earn a master’s degree in management at Georgia Tech and completed Harvard’s Business School’s Program for Management Development.
Working in a public institution, Guynn readily admits that the “biggest challenge” is to overcome the obstacles of working where the bottom line is not easily measured. Employees need to perform truly creative work, yet public entities like the Fed cannot offer the compensation and the big bonuses that are often available elsewhere. Overcoming these challenges and attracting “some of the best and the brightest” young people to come to work at the Federal Reserve is one of Guynn’s priorities. “I’ve tried to create a culture that allows bright young people to experiment and try new things, and learn and grow as fast as they can. I had that opportunity and that’s why I stayed.”
At this stage of Guynn’s life, he thought he would be “ready and able to kick back” but he finds he is “busier than ever.” Part of his time is devoted to giving back to the community. In recent years, Guynn has been active in the United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta, serving as chair of its board of directors and leading the organization’s 2004 funding campaign. In addition, Guynn serves on ex-President Jimmy Carter’s Board of Councilors. He also serves on boards of trustees for Furman and Oglethorpe universities, Virginia Tech’s IE advisory board, and the board of trustees for the Georgia Tech Foundation.
Which proves the adage, “If you want something done, ask a busy person.” Or as Atlanta homebuilder John Wieland has said of Jack Guynn, “Virginia Tech produced a nice human being.”
Class of: 1964
Year Inducted into Academy: 2006