This is what American International Group Inc. (NYSE: AIG) CEO Robert H. Benmosche told The Wall Street Journal when he was asked about the public’s negative reaction to bonuses paid to executives as large U.S. financial services companies. The movement against Benmosche and his colleagues:
…was intended to stir public anger, to get everybody out there with their pitch forks and their hangman nooses, and all that–sort of like what we did in the Deep South [decades ago]. And I think it was just as bad and just as wrong.
The public reaction, and particularly the reaction of black leaders, was swift and powerfully negative. Benmosche kept quiet, a sign, perhaps, that he believed completely in what he said. The pressure on him, however, continued. He finally did what he had no choice other than to do as the CEO of a public company. He met with his most vocal opponent and sent out a press release:
I was very pleased to meet with Rep. Elijah Cummings earlier today. In our meeting, I apologized for my reference to the South and the impact that it had on him and others.
I explained to Rep. Cummings that I was responding to a reporter’s question about certain actions I felt were wrong at the time of the financial crisis: that what stood out to me was the enormous fear AIG employees felt about their safety and the safety of their families because people in positions of public responsibility were actively encouraging the vilification of our people.
I expressed my belief that people should never encourage public anger against any group — for any reason — and that the vilification of a person or a group of people is not right. It’s never right, and when it happens it should not be trivialized or dismissed lightly, as it too often was in the context of AIG. And when I referred to the South, I unintentionally trivialized a horrible legacy of our country. That was the opposite of my intent.
I look forward to continued dialogue. AIG repaid America every dollar plus a profit of $22.9 billion — a total of $205 billion — and every one of our employees is committed to making sure AIG stands for what’s right about this great country.
Too long and too many qualifications to be sincere.