Sunday, May 28, 2000

Military life shaped 5/3 CEO

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        George Schaefer, president and CEO of Fifth Third Bank, would not be where he is today if not for his military experience.

(Jeff Swinger photo)
| ZOOM |
        “In the Army, you get used to people telling you what to do,” said the 1967 U.S. Military Academy graduate who served a year in Vietnam. “You can't be a good leader until you learn how to be a good follower.”

        Mr. Schaefer, 55, oversees a company that holds $44 billion in assets and has 12,000 employees and 641 locations in seven states.

        “The other thing the Army does is you meet people from all 50 states,” he said. “You're brought together as a group and learn how to work together.”

        After leaving West Point, he served two years in Germany before being sent to Vietnam as a captain in an engineering company.

        He helped to build 25 miles of a 50-mile road between Xuan Loc and Saigon.

        “I was an engineer,” Mr. Schaefer said. “We did the bridges. The road was blacktop. About 30 feet wide.”

        The sights, sounds and smells of war were all around.

        “There were skirmishes every night, B-52 strikes all the time,” he said. “We'd go out in the morning, and the bad guys who were killed, they'd have a rope tired to their foot, and they'd be dragged to the highway.

        “Life was so cheap over there. If we ran over someone with a dump truck, the maximum settlement was $65.”

        He resigned his commission in July 1971.

        “War teaches you to appreciate what you have here,” said Mr. Schaefer, who lives in Hyde Park with his wife, Betty Ann, whom he married in 1967. They have three children.

        “We're free because of what the military veteran did,” he said. “It's not just the Vietnam veteran. People here need to appreciate what the American fighting man did. The soldier was the first to get shot, and we don't appreciate it.”


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