FSVC is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year! On this occasion, John L. Walker, FSVC Board Member and retired Partner of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, who has been involved with FSVC since its founding, shared his insights and memories.
Could you tell us about the creation of the organization?
My then law Partner Cyrus Vance and John Whitehead had been asked by President George H. W. Bush to form FSVC as a bipartisan effort bringing together people from the U.S. financial services community and get them to volunteer on missions to help build the financial system infrastructure in Eastern and Central Europe and subsequently the former Soviet Union, all countries moving from centrally-planned, socialist economies to market-oriented economies. Cy and John were the Co-Chairmen of FSVC, and I was asked to be the third Director. In the late 1990s, Cy stepped down from the Board and Paul Volcker took his place as Co-Chairman.
John, Cy and Paul are three iconic figures, and FSVC was extremely fortunate to have had all three of them on its Board! FSVC has benefited extraordinarily from their direction, wisdom and judgment. They were dedicated and devoted to FSVC.
Do you remember the first project you volunteered for?
FSVC’s first mission was in the Spring of 1990 to Poland. It was a truly remarkable experience and a highly successful mission. This was the first time that any Western bankers, lawyers and accountants had open access to the highest levels of the government, Central Bank, Ministry of Finance and Securities Commission. The banking system in a socialist country is a totally different beast! It played a significant role in processing payments, but had almost no private sector focus and was not anything we would recognize in a capitalist country.
Could you tell us about a particularly memorable FSVC project?
Russia was the first country where we had such a large-scale project, and it became FSVC’s flagship project. FSVC made major contributions in the Central Bank, particularly in the banking supervision area. Russia had been our Cold War enemy Number One, but once they understood what FSVC was and began to trust us, they became incredibly receptive and wanted to learn and create a first-class supervisory system. Watching the transformation was absolutely fascinating! We became very close to the reformers, including Andrey Kozlov, who grew to become First Deputy Chairman of the Central Bank of Russia and was tragically assassinated in 2006. I still believe that there is a lot of valuable infrastructure within the Central Bank in terms of human capital in the bank supervisory area thanks to FSVC’s work.
What do you think are FSVC’s top strengths?
We don’t go where we are not invited. We listen to counterparts’ requests. The subject matter has expanded, the geography has expanded, but the core approach remains the same: We are demand-driven.