General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt spoke at West Point today:
I think we are at the end of a difficult generation of business leadership, and maybe leadership in general. Tough-mindedness, a good trait, was replaced by meanness and greed — both terrible traits. Rewards became perverted. The richest people made the most mistakes with the least accountability. In too many situations, leaders divided us instead of bringing us together. As a result, the bottom 25% of the American population is poorer than they were 25 years ago. That is just wrong.
Mr Immelt’s remarks are the latest — perhaps the strongest — among business and financial leaders calling for self-restraint and a change in attitude. Such appeals have fallen on deaf ears.
….Many people — probably most — believe that bankers’ bonuses are profoundly unfair, especially since they were not curtailed in the wake of the financial crisis. Meanwhile, bankers regard themselves as victims of populism kindled by politicians and the media.
The significance of Mr Immelt’s speech, I think, is that the leader of one of the biggest companies in the US is willing to say publicly what many non-business people feel. Leaders in non-financial industries have worried since last year about being tainted by the behaviour of bankers. Now, it seems, they are running out of patience.
Well, we can hope. But I hope Immelt keeps in mind that it’s not just bankers. They may be the worst offenders, but they’re not the only ones.