My empathy meter is working overtime lately trying to understand the minds of those who got us into this crisis and how they don't recognize that losing money means no celebration and no party. Duh!
Here is Jon Carroll in the SF Chronicle today.
Perhaps you saw the full-page Wells Fargo ad in the paper over the weekend. It was heartbreaking. It was all about how the evil, one-sided media had made the corporation cancel its "employee recognition event," which apparently is corporate-speak for a four-day trip to Las Vegas, specifically to the spiffy Wynn hotel and its "twin," the Encore Hotel.
The event was for "top performers" in various departments. The one in Vegas was specifically for "our terrific mortgage team that helped us originate $230 billion in loans last year." How many of these loans are being repaid, one can't help but wonder, partly because Wells Fargo was in enough financial distress to qualify (if that's the word) for $25 billion in TARP bailout funds. This money was undoubtedly useful when Wells Fargo turned around and acquired Wachovia Corp.
Were any actual customers helped? No, Wells Fargo does not hold "recognition events" for its customers, the people who actually pay the interest and, oh yes, the taxes that went into the bailout. Sometimes the customers get a free candy cane, though, and who doesn't like candy?
I've talked to people who've been to these "recognition events," which under various names are common throughout the corporate world. Often they involve an inspirational speaker, seminars that allow top managers to congratulate themselves and hand out plaques to various people who'd much rather have a raise, and "team-building events," like trust exercises or, in the case of one Bank of America outing, a mandatory "Olympics" of various loopy games, all played outdoors in Scottsdale, Ariz., in 100-degree heat.
Nothing like dehydration as a bonding experience.
But of course there's lots of time for drinking, eating, swimming, unwise one-night stands, inappropriate inebriated rants within earshot of the wrong people and perhaps a little minor property damage. In my experience, most employees consider these "fun events" a chore and would much rather be fishing for trout somewhere far away from every other co-worker.
But let's get back to the corporate whining, signed by John Stumpf, who in 2007 (according to Forbes magazine) enjoyed a total compensation of $12,568,917. But still, he's worried about the little people, the tellers and phone bankers and operations clerks.
"For many," he explains, these recognition events are "the only time in their lives that they're publicly recognized and thanked for a job well-done." (Then why not do it more often? - ed.) "This recognition energizes them. It inspires them and their team members to want to create an even better experience for our customers. Another annual event - which our top performers in community banking all looked forward to - was to have been held in May. But not this year. Who loses besides our team members? The workers who depend on our business. The hospitality industry. Hotel housekeepers. Restaurant servers. The airlines."
Stumpf's concern for the housekeepers and restaurant workers is touching. Maybe he could give them each an interest-free loan so they could buy a house. That would be a "recognition event" with teeth.
Or maybe they'd like a plaque. Wells Fargo apparently has a few left over.
Did I mention that Stumpf is a member of the National Republican Congressional Committee, an organization that tries to help Republicans running for national office? Its former treasurer was recently accused of diverting as much as $1 million for his personal use - maybe he just needed a recognition event. The committee is just not having that good a year.
Onward with the ad: "The funds to pay for events such as these do not come from the government. They come from our profits." According to Reuters, Wells Fargo posted a loss of $255 billion for the last quarter of 2008. There's so much about high finance I do not understand. "Competition to be recognized makes everyone worker harder and smarter. ... Events such as this are the heart of our culture because our product is service, delivered by caring, energized, talented, loyal team members who earn competitive, fair wages and benefits."
No, Mr. Stumpf, the heart of your culture is hanging on to our money. I don't care if the teller is sweet to me or not; I do care if my tax money has to go to helping you get over the hump when you've made a series of predictably unwise business decisions. I expect my banker to be greedy; I do not expect him to be shortsighted. If Wells Fargo can't get along without $25 billion from the government every so often, then maybe Wells Fargo should stop whining about the press and start making loans to people who can repay them, for instance.
Maybe in the next ad, you could apologize to people for the last ad.
I'd like to apologize to the cooks and dishwashers and maids - only those in the country legally, of course - for what the media did to your pathetic little lives.