American University of Beirut

Richard A. Debs

Richard A. Debs is a man of many parts: lawyer, banker, public servant, adviser to governments, philanthropist, patron of the arts, facilitator of intercultural dialogue, and student of Islamic law. Well known to the AUB community, he has served as a trustee since 1976, and has been chairman of the Board of Trustees for more than eleven years. As planned, he is now stepping down as the University ends this academic year, having given decades of distinguished service to AUB.

A New Yorker, Dr. Debs graduated summa cum laude from Colgate University in 1952, and then went abroad to Egypt and the Middle East as a Fulbright Scholar - the first of many international experiences, and a formative one. He received his MA and later his PhD from Princeton, where he was a Ford Foundation fellow. He then went to Harvard Law School, receiving his JD in 1958. He then returned to Egypt on a joint Harvard-Princeton fellowship to research his doctoral dissertation, "Property Law in Egypt - Islamic Law and Civil Code."

Continuing his interest in international affairs, he joined the Federal Reserve System as a lawyer, specializing in international finance. During a 16-year tenure there he rose to become the chief operating officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the institution responsible for the central bank's international operations. He was an alternate member of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), which is responsible for United States monetary policy.

He resigned from the Federal Reserve in 1976 to join Morgan Stanley, and in the interim "cooling off" period, he served as pro-bono adviser to President Anwar Sadat of Egypt, which was then facing serious economic problems. In that role he worked closely with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank as well as with President Sadat and the Egyptian government. 

He was asked to join Morgan Stanley in order to develop the firm's international activities, long before the process of globalization had begun. As the founding president of Morgan Stanley International, his travels and operations were worldwide - London to Paris to Moscow to Beirut, to Cairo, to Beijing, to Tokyo and stops in between - ultimately resulting in a truly global financial institution with a network of 12,000 employees from all over the world. He stepped down as president in 1987 but continues with Morgan Stanley as advisory director and member of the Morgan Stanley International Advisory Board, which he also founded.

He has also served as a director or adviser of many international companies, including the Malaysia Fund, Industrial Bank of Japan, Gulf International Bank in the United Kingdom, Mizuho Corporate Bank in Japan, Bank Julius Baer in Switzerland, and United Gulf Group in Kuwait. He has also served on advisory committees to the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. For his contributions to Saudi Arabia, he was awarded its King Abdul Aziz Medal. He was chairman of the New York Stock Exchange International Committee, US chair of the Bretton Woods Committee, cochair of the US Saudi Arabian Business Council, chair of the G-30 Study Group on Eastern Europe, and chair of the Egyptian American Chamber of Commerce. He was also a member of the Russian-American Bankers Forum, a small group of pro-bono advisers including David Rockefeller and Cyrus Vance, assisting President Yeltsin of Russia in the earliest days of his post-Soviet tenure.

Chairman Debs' deep involvement in international finance has always gone hand in hand with active engagement in philanthropic, public service, cultural, and educational organizations.He has served as a trustee on the National Commission on The Public Service, the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the Institute of International Education - the latter a long time world leader in the international exchange of students, educators, and young professionals. His concern for the arts is reflected in his decades of service to Carnegie Hall, where he was chairman for many years and continues to serve on its Executive Committee as chairman emeritus. He has received honorary awards from the National Academy of Design and the Third Street Music School Settlement, and is closely involved in the Midori Foundation and Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road project. He is also a trustee of the Barenboim-Said foundation, established by Edward Said and Daniel Barenboim to bring together young musicians from Israel and the Arab world to join in making music and enhancing mutual understanding.

Thus, while international banking has been at the heart of his professional activities, his broader interest has been in fostering international understanding as the only sure route to peace and justice.

The involvement of Dr. Debs in the world of education has most closely touched AUB and reflects a strong commitment to the international exchange of people and ideas and the establishment of the bridge between East and West. At an awards ceremony in his honor of the Arab Bankers Association of North America in 2003, Dr. Debs declared that AUB, as well as the American University in Cairo, are the "most valuable assets for America and for the Arab world - particularly in this period of such great turmoil and misunderstanding." The mission of AUB, he went on, "is to serve as a bridge between the United States and the Arab world, and today that mission is more important than it has been in its 140-year history."

Dr. Debs served as chairman of the AUB Board of Trustees during a most critical time in the University's history - the long recovery from the chaos and destruction of the civil war years. On his watch the University saw the rebuilding of the University's faculty and infrastructure, the development of an International Advisory Council, the growth of the University's endowment, the implementation of a campus master plan, the establishment of the Suliman S. Olayan School of Business, the winning - through an arduous period of self-study - of accreditation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, and the launching of the 140 million dollar Campaign for Excellence. The campaign initially had a goal of 100 million dollars - which would have been a remarkable milestone in the history of AUB - but Chairman Debs thought it should be raised to 140 million dollars to coincide with the University's 140 th anniversary. The 100 million dollar milestone has been passed, and Dr. Debs is now confident, as he retires, that the 140 million dollar mark will be reached on schedule. He looks forward to celebrating that milestone and anniversary as chairman emeritus.

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