In our anger at AIG, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch and the other holding companies which have sorely abused the public and marketplace trust, we need to recognize the many good men and women in those organizations who will and do put their shoulders to the wheel without demanding ransom; those who believe in their organizations, the work they do and in their fellow employees who are struggling to make their companies work. It is sad that they will now take the heat for their abusive leaders. It is often their pay which was first cut, their budgets and staffs first reduced, their jobs first eliminated, even while their executives paid each other far too well.
I sorely hope that the compensation consultants who have had their way in the design of outrageous executive compensation programs do not hold sway in their arguments that exorbitant pay is necessary to attract and maintain a high level of executive talent. Many of us who have counseled the financial services industry over the years do hold many executives in the highest regard, and remain confident in their leadership and heart. They are also disgusted by what they see is happening. But we have also seen far too many of them who have gained a position of high authority (and with the concurrent ability to amass great wealth) by their political adroitness rather than business insight; and have seen those who have arrived at positions of inflated pay not by possession of any unusual skill or knowledge, but merely by serendipity and the abuse of the customer’s trust.
Let us be careful in our anger, though. Let us make sure that those who work in those companies, the bulk of them, those who do the hard work of designing and operating fine retirement programs, do not become the inadvertent targets of our rage. They have suffered their fools for far too many years, and they know it. It would be unfair now to heap any further insult on them which would only add to the indignities they themselves have suffered over the years from such corrupt leadership.