13 Jul 2016
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From Money to Ministry

A banker hears the call to serve a higher power
by Margie Kelley

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Photography by Tori Soper

Rodney Quainton (MBA 1970) had always wanted to be a banker. At Yale (Class of 1962), courses on money management and banking attracted him. “At that time,” he recalls, “banking was considered an honorable profession.”

Right out of college, he took a job at a Los Angeles bank, “on the ground floor,” first as a teller, then accounts clerk, safety deposits clerk, and bookkeeper.

“All of these roles helped me understand the guts of the organization,” he says. “It was humbling, but I am forever grateful, because it was a wonderful, grounding experience to meet the people we served and to see all of the day-to-day stuff.”

Quainton’s dream job was interrupted in 1964 when he was drafted. After training at the Naval Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island, he was sent to the Panama Canal to serve as an Operations – Communications Officer and navigator on an LST (landing ship tank), where he shared a command over 150 sailors.

“It was a great leadership experience,” Quainton says. “I had to learn how to make a team out of men who’d come from vastly different experiences and education.”

Quainton was also required to lead Sunday services for the crew, and though he didn’t realize it at the time, leading those services would signal the beginning of a shift in his career path. The banker and Naval officer would ultimately become an ordained Episcopal priest.

On his second tour of duty, Quainton served in Japan as Aide and Flag Lieutenant to Rear Admiral Norvell Ward, who commanded a fleet of 52 supply ships deployed in the Gulf of Tonkin, supporting US troops in Vietnam. It was there that he observed a tragedy that only added to a series of hints at what would become his later calling.

“I had arranged for Admiral Ward’s son, a marine captain deployed as a platoon leader in Vietnam, to visit him on his birthday,” says Quainton. “He arranged to transport [his son] to the Command Ship for a surprise lunch, and then returned him to the jungle of DaNang.” The next day, Quainton learned that the marine had been killed in action, and he had the responsibility to inform the Admiral and be with him as he grieved for his son.

“This was a taste of the pastoral ministry of journeying with someone during one of life’s tragedies,” Quainton says.

With that experience etched in his memory, Quainton’s tour was up. Instead of reenlisting, he applied to Harvard Business School with the hope of returning to his banking career. “Harvard showed me a whole different aspect to banking,” he says. “Professor Charlie Williams, who taught Commercial Banking, was my mentor. He made banking exciting. He was interested in corporate governance, and talked about how good bankers added value to the economy. That’s how I came to love banking.”

Still, looking back, Quainton can see that HBS was also preparing him for ministry. “I am an off-the-charts introvert,” he says. “I had to learn to thrive in the very extroverted environment of HBS. That’s why the case method is so good. I was forced into the fray. It helped me with my ministry, because it put me out there. I have to be able to engage people of different backgrounds and with differing perspectives.”

Upon graduating, Quainton joined the First National Bank of Chicago, a “bank full of HBS grads.” He handled lending for the airline and aerospace industry during deregulation and many reorganizations.

“I learned about relationship banking, as opposed to now, where it’s all about the deal, all quite transactional, to my dismay.”

Quainton’s career took off. He would serve as the bank’s deputy general manager in its Tokyo office, and later in New York managing multinational accounts. He’d later land in Houston, where he was sent to fix banks in trouble.

“I used my skills from Professor Lodge’s Organizational Behavior course, like putting my desk out in the middle of my team so I could be accessible to them.”

For all he was learning in his fast-paced career, Quainton was increasingly active in his church, where he volunteered to run a Bible study for the many men who were losing their jobs when the Houston economy tanked in the 1980s.

“My wife noticed I was enjoying the Bible study more than anything, and that perhaps I was called to ministry,” he says. “I went to my rector to talk about it, and he said, ‘What took you so long?’ Less than a year later, I was in seminary.”

Quainton gave up a six-figure salary and a comfortable life to make the monumental shift. But he had his family’s support, as well as an amazing offer from his bank: they wished him well, but should things not turn out, he’d have a job waiting for him.

Secure in his decision, Quainton committed himself to his ecumenical studies, all the while supporting his family with a side job teaching an undergraduate business class at the University of Texas. That post led him to become an adjunct professor.

“I found out I loved teaching, and even got to use some HBS cases in my business ethics class,” he says.

Once ordained, Quainton served in a handful of Southern churches before moving north, first to Michigan and ultimately settling in the Chicago area. Over his 25 years in ministry, his business training and experience have been invaluable tools to help him connect with parishioners “facing moral and ethical dilemmas in the marketplace.” After the economic downturn in 2008, he led programs aimed specifically at helping his parishioners to find new opportunities.

Quainton points to his days at HBS for “grounding me in leadership for any context. The fundamentals are the same wherever you are.

“Business is an ethical profession,” he says. “It’s also about relationships. How do you teach people, and do you listen? Harvard gave me the skills to deal with people, and the skills to be in relationships. These skills have helped me all along my long career. Learning to listen has served me well in ministry, as my job is not to fix someone but to journey with someone in their life’s joys and sorrows.”

Retired since 2013, Quainton now serves as a mentor, helping new ministers find their vocation and calling. “That’s a major satisfaction for me,” he says. “They don’t have any private sector experience and can have trouble relating to the pressures their parishioners face. Sharing my experiences has been very meaningful.” He is also serving two churches part-time, Christ Church in Winnetka, Illinois and First Presbyterian Church in Wilmette, Illinois.

Throughout his career, Quainton has been active with his HBS alumni club and as a major booster and volunteer for local visual and performing arts organizations. He has served as a docent at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and the Detroit Institute of Arts, and currently serves on the board of the Jackalope Theatre Company, a black-box theatre startup.

“I also recently lead a program on the spirituality of Van Gogh,” he says. “A central theme of my ministry has been to help people to see God in the world around them, especially in the workplace and through the arts.”

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Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 1970, Section B

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