Posted by: Martin Fox | February 25, 2009

Ethics and accountability for banks receiving bail-out funds

Wow, another one of those “what were they thinking – were they thinking” episodes.

We had a simple rule on the executive teams I was a part of. Simple things like no bonuses when business targets are not met. Simple things like canceling expensive meetings and events when business is down. Simple things like watching our budgets and tightening our belts – you know, like we were taught by our parents. And… we did those things while we maintained profitability – not after getting billions in bailout funds from the government.

It’s worth repeating – what are some of these executives thinking and are they thinking?

Peace out – Martin Fox with the Center for Global Leadership.

I Ponied Up for Sheryl Crow?


Talk about being teed off.

The economy is croaking and bankers are still partying at a golf tournament here on our dime.

It’s a good argument for nationalization, or better yet, internationalization. Outsource the jobs of these perfidious, oblivious bank executives to Bangalore; Bollywood bashes have to cost less than Hollywood ones.

The entertainment Web site TMZ broke the story Tuesday that Northern Trust of Chicago, which got $1.5 billion in bailout money and then laid off 450 workers, flew hundreds of clients and employees to Los Angeles last week and treated them to four days of posh hotel rooms, salmon and filet mignon dinners, music concerts, a PGA golf tournament at the Riviera Country Club with Mercedes shuttle rides and Tiffany swag bags.

“A rep from the PGA told us Northern Trust wrote one big, fat check in order to sponsor the event,” TMZ reported.

Northern No Trust had a lavish dinner at the Ritz Carlton on Wednesday with a concert by Chicago (at a $100,000 fee); rented a private hangar at the Santa Monica Airport on Thursday for another big dinner with a gig by Earth, Wind & Fire, and closed down the House of Blues on Sunset Strip on Saturday (at a cost of $50,000) for a dinner and serenade by Sheryl Crow.

In the ignoble tradition of rockers who sing for huge sums to sketchy people when we’re not looking, Crow — in her stint as a federal employee — warbled these lyrics to the oblivious revelers:

“Slow down, you’re gonna crash,
Baby, you’re a-screaming it’s a blast, blast, blast
Look out babe, you’ve got your blinders on …
But there’s a new cat in town
He’s got high payin’ friends
Thinks he’s gonna change history.”

Northern Untrustworthy even offered junketeers the chance to attend a seminar on the credit crunch where they could no doubt learn that the U.S. government is just the latest way to finance your deals and keep your office swathed in $87,000 area rugs.

In what is now an established idiotic ritual of rationalization, the bank put out a letter noting that it “did not seek the government’s investment” even though it took it, and that it had raised $3 million for the Los Angeles Junior Chamber of Commerce Charity Foundation and other nonprofits. They riposted that they have a contract to do it every year for five years; but this isn’t every year.

The bank cloaks itself in a philanthropic glow while wasting our money, acting like the American Cancer Society when in fact it’s a cancer on American society.

It asserted that it earned an operating net income of $641 million last year and acted as though it did Americans a favor by taking federal cash.

I would ask Northern No Trust: If you’re totally solvent, why are you taking my tax dollars? If you’re not totally solvent, why are you giving my tax dollars to Sheryl Crow?

Coming in a moment when skeptical and angry Americans watched A.I.G., Citigroup, General Motors and Chrysler — firms that had already been given a federal steroid injection — get back in line for more billions, the golf scandal was just one more sign that the bailed-out rich are different from you and me: their appetites are unquenchable and their culture is uneducable.

President Obama served them notice on Tuesday night in his Congressional address, saying: “This time, C.E.O.’s won’t be able to use taxpayer money to pad their paychecks or buy fancy drapes or disappear on a private jet. Those days are over.”

But will they notice?

John “Antique Commode” Thain had to be ordered by a judge to tell Andrew Cuomo’s investigators which Merrill Lynch employees got those $3.6 billion in bonuses that Thain illicitly shoved through as his firm was failing and being taken over by Bank of America with the help of a $45 billion bailout. Kenneth Lewis, the Bank of America C.E.O., made the absurd assertion to Congress that his bank had “no authority” to stop the bonuses, even though he knew about them beforehand.

“They find out they’re $7 billion off on the estimate of losses for the fourth quarter and they never think maybe we should go back and adjust these bonuses?” Cuomo told me, as Thain was finally responding to investigators on Tuesday at the New York attorney general’s office. “He refused to answer questions on the basis that ‘the Bank of America didn’t want me to.’ You can take the Fifth Amendment or you can answer questions. But there’s no Bank of America privilege. The Bank of America doesn’t substitute for the Constitution. And who’s the Bank of America, by the way?”

He gets incensed about how ingrained, indoctrinated and insensitive the ex-masters of the universe are. “They think of themselves as kings and queens,” he said. And they’re not ready to abdicate.



  1. Just to add to the outrage, it is unseemly that Citigroup is now increasing their employees’ base salaries by 50% just to avoid the executive pay bonus constraint.

    • Let me start out by mentioning that I have designed performance compensation systems for corporations and have a working knowledge of the way the plans work. While I shared the initial feelings by Shalom, after reading through some of the limited details of Citigroup’s proposed compensation structure, on the surface, I don’t necessarily disagree with what they are doing. Of course, the devil is in the details and I haven’t seen the full plans.

      According to what I read, the rebalancing of the compensation plans is primarily for individuals who had relatively lower base salaries and extremely high back-end bonus plans (the high back-end bonuses are going away). Even with the base pay increases, it appears the total compensation potential would be significantly lower than what the individuals used to earn. Again, I would need to see the full plan details to have a firm opinion one way or the other, but I understand why they are adjusting base salaries.

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