How Will Citigroup’s Sandy Weill be Remembered?

sandyweill2 How Will Citigroups Sandy Weill be Remembered?

PR Verdict: “F” for Sandy Weill and his attempt to be secure a kinder slot in the history books.

How will history remember Sandy Weill, the former CEO of Citigroup and architect of the largest financial services firm that nearly went under?  Judging by a recent article published in Fortune, if he has his way, he would like to be remembered as a visionary philanthropist.  History may not be so kind.

In an embarrassingly soft-ball article, the former CEO waxes lyrical about his philanthropic endeavours for the first part of the interview.  These include the creation of the National Academy Foundation as well as generous contributions to the arts and healthcare, obligingly listed by the magazine.

As for the tough questions about the near collapse of the financial system, his own bank’s astonishing destruction of value and the excesses of executive compensation, Weill says nothing of any interest.  Given his experience and formerly revered status, now was the time, at the age of 79 to rescue an irredeemably doomed reputation.  Regarding executive compensation Weill sounds more like a PR intern working on a draft Q&A, opining,  “people should be paid appropriately”.  He adds that fixing banks that are  “too big to fail is a problem” but offers no solution or insight.  He concedes that “people made mistakes that created issues” but blithely adds “it’s time to move on.”

PR Verdict:  “F” for Sandy Weill and his attempt to secure a kinder slot in the history books.  Speaking in generalities and turning attention to philanthropic endeavours will not redefine a hopelessly damaged reputation.

PR Takeaway: If you want to change a point of view say something surprising.  Salvaging a reputation requires more than throwing money at charitable causes.  At Weill’s venerable age he has nothing to lose. Why not make some radical fundamental observations while also acknowledging some personal role in the crisis? It might have given him the reputational rewrite he seems to crave.   Next time have a look at Warren Buffett for some pointers on how to make people sit up and listen.

To read the article click here. To read more click here.

What’s your PR Verdict?

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Did Warren Buffett Have To Say Anything?

warren buffett2 300x203 Did Warren Buffett Have To Say Anything?

The PR Verdict: “A” for Buffett's consistently smart PR.

So, Warren Buffett has stage one prostate cancer.  The famous investor isn’t worried and nor are his doctors.  Investors are sanguine and the media says unanimously it isn’t life threatening.  In a statement issued by his firm Berkshire Hathaway, Buffett, Chairman and CEO, said the news “is not remotely life-threatening or even debilitating in any meaningful way…I feel great.”

What then were the obligations to disclose the news?  Particularly given Buffett is already 81 years old.   Might it have been easier to sit tight and not mention it?

Buffett’s genial PR profile has long been associated with transparency.  He routinely tells investors when he gets things wrong and has often been his own harshest critic.  Making the announcement makes no difference to the day-to-day running of the firm.  But it does put him firmly in control of his own PR and keeps his reputation consistent with his public persona.  Smart move.

The PR Verdict: “A” for Warren Buffett’s consistently smart PR.  By making the announcement himself he was always in control of the message.

PR Takeaway:  Always better to make the announcement yourself than have someone else make it a scoop, and do it for you.  Buffett was in tight control of the agenda and was presumably pointing journalists to medics who were giving informed and on-message analysis of his prognosis.  With talk of who will be Buffett’s successor still ongoing, this could have been a gateway into a far more destabilizing media controversy for Berkshire.  No wonder he chose to go public.

To read more click here and here.

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What To Think Of Buffett’s Succession Plan?

warrenbuffet What To Think Of Buffetts Succession Plan?

The PR Verdict: “B” for Warren Buffet and his handling of a succession plan.

Warren Buffett released financial results for Berkshire Hathaway in a 22-page letter to investors on Saturday. What caught the headlines was that the world’s most famous CEO finally confirmed that a successor has been identified. While the 81-year-old declined to name the candidate, he reassured investors that the transfer of leadership would ultimately be “seamless”.

Buffet made a clever distinction in the announcement by highlighting that the news was about a succession plan and not identifying the replacement.  With his characteristic talent for the sound bite he said, “This is not the if-I-get-hit-by-a-bus plan. This is the succession plan.”

Buffet in his letter went on to reassure: “Directors are “enthusiastic about my successor as CEO….When a transfer of responsibility is required, it will be seamless.”

The PR Verdict: “B” for Warren Buffet and his handling of a succession plan. A sensible strategy but sooner or later investors will begin to wonder if there is also a timeline in the works.

Less that 12 months ago Berkshire disclosed it had identified four current managers who were potential CEOs. But just weeks after that filing, David Sokol, considered the front-runner, quit when he was accused of violating the company’s insider trading policies.  This was a major embarrassment for Buffett.

To avoid any further mis-steps it seems sensible to hold fire until the new person formally takes the seat. It keeps Buffett firmly in charge and protects the newly anointed from being exposed prematurely. The PR challenge will be to keep media and investors refraining from endless speculation, which can be just as distracting and divisive as not having a plan in the first place.

To read more click here to read the Letter to Shareholders click here.