Opinion

Felix Salmon

Private-jet divas miss their meeting with Obama

By Felix Salmon
December 14, 2009

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.

Comments
14 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Uh, FWIW the FT’s Alphaville column says the three will miss the meeting *because* they were going commercial — not private — and flights were delayed/canceled due to fog @ Reagan Nat’l. ( http://ftalphaville.ft.com/blog/2009/12/ 14/111611/the-perils-of-flying-commercia l/#comment-960524 )

Posted by DCS | Report as abusive
 

Um, there were days last year when I got stuck on the 4/5 train for 30+ minutes as well. Plus no phone/internet connectivity at all from there.

Posted by q_is_too_short | Report as abusive
 

Cheatygroup: Business class or first class?

Proposal: Senior Executive bikes, complete with broadband-wifi and cams for conferencing and monitoring purposes, large saddlebags stuffed with cash to get through traffic jams, and a tall, flexible riser topped by an orange flag, emblazoned with their blood type, which can both keep them nicely visible, and help them get prompt,effective medical attention when they get run over.

Posted by Uncle_Billy | Report as abusive
 

Yeah — my own CEO, hardly a fat cat, had his NYC->DC shuttle flight cancelled this morning and had to call into a meeting. Not a lame excuse — and it’s better to be able to call in to an important meeting from a quiet conference room than from an Acela stuck in Wilmington.

Posted by hotel2tango | Report as abusive
 

John Cook, Esq., of the Manhattan Gawkers, is on the case, getting to the foggy bottom of it all.

http://gawker.com/5426037/wall-st-banker s-snub-obama-duck-dc-sit+down-because-of -inclement-weather

Ubiquitous cams — the greatest bullshit detectors ever.

Posted by Uncle_Billy | Report as abusive
 

I hope from now on we’ll require companies on the federal dole to make extensive use of private jets so as not to squander taxpayer resources.

Posted by dWj | Report as abusive
 

Come or don’t come, populists like you just like to rant.

Posted by jdanielwright | Report as abusive
 

Seriously, this is the most retarded post ever. The problem with financial journalists is that they’re friggin’ idiots.

Posted by Scott7 | Report as abusive
 

Seriously, Felix, I’m normally one of your biggest supporters, but this calls for some sort of a mea culpa on your part, no? It’s a highly irresponsible piece that I’d expect from Matt Taibbi, not from you.

Posted by megalomaniac | Report as abusive
 

Scott, you just don’t understand sophisticated PR. This was a slick way to publicize the names of the bankers and cast them in a positive light (except for Jamie Dimon, who abhors light).

Posted by Uncle_Billy | Report as abusive
 

Felix, your second update is very helpful. Perhaps it should prompt a revised naming of this post?

Posted by right | Report as abusive
 

Maybe I am just old-fashioned, but I travel the evening before an important meeting. For eight-figure compensation I would even travel the afternoon before a meeting with a head of state.

Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive
 

I did think it’s rather suspect that some of these all powerful bankers couldn’t make it to a f$eaking meeting with the POTUS! The POTUS!!

But, isn’t it besides the point to be speculating on the nature of the absence? The mere fact of the President saying, essentially, it’s time you guys reciprocate, doesn’t that sound pathetic to you all? Our President, all he could come up with is something along the line of a jettisoned lover, PLEADING, I was there for you when you needed me (and it’s still contested whether all the banks needed TARP money), don’t you think you owe it to me now that I need you?

So we’ve sunken so low, so desperate as to have our President beg business executives, who, mind you, are never known for being nice guys or even having a heart for that matter, to reciprocate a helping hand! Am I being cynical here or is something very very wrong? Where was the President, when deals were negotiated to bail banks out(to be fair, it might be the previous President for TARP, still, Geithner had a number of opportunities to demand a pound of flesh)?

Why did they pay 100 cents on the dollar on the AIG deal? The government would be in a much stronger position to demand reciprocation then, before forking over the $$, than now, after the fact. Anyone with an ounce of brain would know this, a smart guy like Geithner surely knows, but he was too busy to save the world from collapsing (in his own mind at least) to be bothered with trivial stuff like moral hazard. This grudge I’m probably going to hold into my grave. It’s entirely cavalier with taxpayer money and simply unforgivable.

Posted by jian1312 | Report as abusive
 

Quite aside from the needless sarcasm of this piece, I really take issue with the underlying assumption that because you have been summoned by the mighty Barack Obama, you must move heaven and earth to be there. These guys have banks to run and taxpayer money to pay back. Why should they humour Nobama with a couple of photo-ops so he can burnish his populist, anti-Wall Street credentials? Not surprisingly, Nobama dumped on the banks yesterday. They should have told him to blow it out his ear.

Posted by Gotthardbahn | Report as abusive
 

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