Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Business As Usual

So,was anyone else infuriated by this? I hope so; it's our money paying for it, after all:

AIG Spa Trip Fuels Fury on Hill
Pressing Executives to Concede Mistakes,
Lawmakers Blast Them About Bonuses

For some people at AIG, the insurance giant rescued last month with an $85 billion federal bailout, the good times keep rolling.

Joseph Cassano, the financial products manager whose complex investments led to American International Group's near collapse, is receiving $1 million a month in consulting fees.

Former chief executive Martin J. Sullivan, whose three-year tenure coincided with much of the company's ill-fated risk-taking, is receiving a $5 million performance bonus.

And just last week, about 70 of the company's top performers were rewarded with a week-long stay at the luxury St. Regis Resort in Monarch Beach, Calif., where they ran up a tab of $440,000.
The article in its entirety, from today's Washington Post, is here. Click away.

In my office, the discussions run from irate to incredulous, with "What were they thinking?" being the main question on the table. And my answer is "They weren't." Because in my experience, those who perpetrate such cosmically selfish acts of self-indulgence aren't thinking about much of anything other than . . . well, themselves.

I spent several years in the non-profit sector, working in an organization that had its heart in the right place, but was run by a CEO who enjoyed the trappings of the office more than the actual work. Consequently, one of her primary jobs -- fundraising -- became secondary, then tertiary, then finally dropped off the radar screen entirely. Meanwhile, even as the organization was beginning to hemorrhage and the rest of us were looking for ways to reduce costs, she proposed bringing the entire staff across the country for a staff retreat at Coronado Island, California. At still another time, we ended up eating the costs of several high dollar, non-refundable airline tickets because she had decided, the day before the scheduled trips, that she preferred to stay home.

There wasn't necessarily any malice in some of these actions; just a complete ignorance -- and sometimes disregard -- of How Things Really Work. "Clue free," one of our staffers used to call it.

Now, I expect better of Wall Street investors and insurers, of course, who claim to be smarter and wiser about business than all the rest of us combined. But I bring this to your attention merely to illustrate that at all levels of business -- whether it's a low-dollar non-profit, or billion dollar insurance agency -- there are always those who either don't know, or just don't care, how their actions and decisions affect others. In their world, money just sorta shows up from some place -- and you're entitled to it, after all, or you wouldn't be sitting where you are. So you might as well spend it on yourself.

I wish I had something deep and meaningful to say about all this, but I don't. My point is merely that greed and stupidity aren't limited to the AIGs of the world. I wish I could say I'm surprised or appalled by the behavior of the muckety mucks at AIG and elsewhere. But my own experience just leaves me thinking, "How typical." And I hate it that I feel that way.