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.
What’s your PR Verdict?