“Don’t Follow A Single Track”: Adapting Leadership Lessons From West Point And The Army In The Business World

Rolfe Gunther Arnhym


Rolfe Arnhym was born in Berlin, Germany, in June 1930, but grew up in Jackson, Michigan, Chicago, New York and Elizabeth, New Jersey, with his brother who was two years younger. His father was a consulting engineer for RCA (later chief engineer), who eventually worked on jet propulsion. His mother was a homemaker who worked in the defense industry during World War II. As a young boy, he swam and played tennis, and he later enjoyed being on the debate team in high school. He was a Boy Scout who loved being outdoors and learning new skills. Nine years old when World War II began in 1939, following news of the war made him aware of the outside world. That was the same year he first visited West Point. He was in awe of the structures of the Academy and its history, and he viewed Cadets as inspiring role models. Ten years later, Rolfe joined the Corps after graduating from a prep school (Honor Grad) and completing a year of junior college. He remembers taking a train to West Point and walking up the hill from the station. Beast (“it was really Beast”) was a rude awakening and he felt as if he had lost all control over his life. He believed that he really had to fight academically, noting that he struggled with numbers but he enjoyed languages. He played on the tennis and squash teams, but hated the obstacle course. Militarily, he achieved the rank of Cadet Sergeant and is currently his class president. When he was a Cadet, the Corps was organized into two Regiments, A through M Companies, with Cadets being distributed by height. The tallest Cadets were in A1 and M2 (the flankers) while the shortest cadets were in M1 and A2 (the runts). The logic behind this was that on parade, all companies would appear to be of similar height. Rolfe was in Company L-1 and remembers strengthening the bonds with his classmates over Plebe Christmas, where the 4th Class had to remain at the Academy over the holidays. He enjoyed traveling with the squash and tennis teams, and he vividly remembers debates at the University of Indiana and McGill University in Canada. During his time as a Cadet, one of the summer training events included conducting a beach landing on Virginia Beach in conjunction with midshipmen from the Naval Academy (“Camid” an Operation with Cadets and Midshipmen). The Class of ’53 believed they’d see combat in Korea and so they “soaked up” summer training and trips for branch orientation. He remembers marching in President Eisenhower’s inauguration on January 20, 1953. Upon graduation, he branched Infantry. He was stationed at Ft. Riley, Kansas, and was serving as the Aide de Camp when he met his wife, whose father was serving in the Division Artillery. They met in June 1954 and were married in October. His unit, the 87th Infantry, deployed to Germany as part of Operation Gyroscope, where he served from 1955 to 1958, first as a battalion operations officer and later as a company commander. He noticed the various construction projects that were still helping Germany recover following the end of World War II. He recalls the real-world mission of countering the Soviet threat as well as the training they conducted at Grafenwoehr and Wildflecken. While his family was stationed in Germany, his two daughters were born in 1956 and 1958. After returning from Germany, he completed the advanced course and was then assigned as the Aide de Camp to the Chief of the Provisional Military Assistance Advisory Group – Korea from 1960 to 1963. Initially this was an unaccompanied assignment, but after a year he was permitted to bring his family over. He remembers that Korea had still not completely recovered from the war after seven years. While in Korea, he was aware of the increasing number of advisors being sent to Vietnam. In 1963, he returned to the United States and was stationed at Ft. Ord, California, where he was the Chief of Training for the 3rd Training Brigade. In 1964, he was assigned to Headquarters, Communication Zone (COM-Z) in France, where the big question was one of reducing forces in that country. In 1966, he deployed to Vietnam and served as the Executive Officer for 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, in the 1st Cavalry Division. He describes his experiences as XO and the constant operations they executed, noting “you’re never really truly ready for combat.” In 1968 he completed Command and General Staff College before taking a position in the Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff for Force Development. In 1971, he returned to Vietnam to command 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry, part of the 23rd Division (Americal). His most vivid memories of that period involve dealing with Soldiers who did not want to be there. After leaving battalion command, he commanded a Defense Task Force at Cam Ranh Bay, which included a Korean unit. Part of their mission included protecting ships from enemy sappers and frogmen. After returning from Vietnam he was assigned to the Army Training Development Agency from 1972 to 1974, where he worked on developing the MILES training system. In 1974, Rolfe retired from the Army and entered the business world, where he drew upon his military experience to help forge a successful career. From 1978 to 1999, he served as the leader of several Chambers of Commerce in Pasadena, Long Beach, Palm Springs, and Beverly Hills, and in 1983, he brought the Army Navy Game to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. Since 2000, he has served as a Chairman at Vistage, helping CEOs from around the world develop best practices to improve their businesses. In this interview, he talks about his childhood, his West Point and Army experiences, and his career in the business world. He highlights the importance of planning and pursuing multiple courses of action, reminding the viewer, “Don’t say it can’t be done.” He notes that service is a continuum in which one should give back to the community and the country. Finally, he reflects upon what West Point means to him, stating “it shaped who I am.”


name Rolfe Gunther Arnhym
institution USMA
graduation year 1953
service Infantry
unit 87th Infantry Regiment; Provisional MAAG-Korea; 3rd Training Brigade; Headquarters Communications Zone; 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division; 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry, 23rd Infantry Division (Americal)
service dates 1953 1974