Private-jet divas miss their meeting with Obama

By Felix Salmon
December 14, 2009
neither its chairman nor its CEO was able to turn up to a meeting with the president of the United States of America.

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How incompetent is Citigroup? Incompetent enough that even today, when the bank is announcing a major agreement with the government to pay back its TARP money, neither its chairman nor its CEO was able to turn up to a meeting with the president of the United States of America.

The bailout repayment news kept Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit from attending Monday’s meeting, Citi spokeswoman Molly Millerwise Meiners said. She said chairman Richard Parsons planned to attend but bad weather kept him from reaching Washington in time.

A couple of quick points here:

  1. Why on earth should repaying TARP prevent Pandit from showing up to the meeting?
  2. Is DIck Parsons really such a diva that he won’t show up to a meeting with POTUS unless he can travel there in a private jet? (Update: no, see below.)

The other winners of the Diva Award, incidentally, are Lloyd Blankfein and John Mack, both of whom are joining Parsons on the phone. They should rightly be excoriated for this: it’s one thing using shareholder money to fly around the world on a private jet if that makes getting to your meetings easier. It’s quite another thing to miss meetings entirely on the grounds that if you can’t get there by private jet, you’re not going to get there at all.

I’m reminded of the bankers who turned up very late to the emergency meetings at the Fed in September 2008 because they insisted on trying to inch down the FDR Drive in bad weather rather than taking the 4/5 train like any sensible person. And I’m reminded too, of course, of the Detroit executives who took private jets to Washington to beg for a bailout. The minders at Citi, Goldman, and Morgan Stanley surely know that anything which reminds the public of that debacle is not going to be good for optics.

(HT: Chia, who got to DC on the Acela without any problems this morning.)

Update: Citigroup calls to say that Parsons was flying commercial, and got caught in fog.

Update 2: More information emerges! Apparently both John Mack and Lloyd Blankfein, like Dick Parsons, failed to get to DC because they were flying commercial; Jamie Dimon got there because he took his jet. Maybe he should have offered his fellow CEOs a ride down.

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