I mentioned last week that Wells Fargo bank, one of the original recipients of federal bailout money last fall, had been planning several lavish trips to Las Vegas for its employees. The company eventually cancelled the trips under the scrutiny of the media and federal lawmakers who had started to howl.
You would think that Wells Fargo would lay low in the wake of this embarrassment. But CEO John Stumpf is being defiant instead. He must have really loved those Vegas trips, because he's taken out full page ads in the New York Times, Washington Post (2/8/09, page A15) and other major newspapers, to complain about having to cancel them.
Stumpf writes, "The funds to pay for recognition events such as these do not come from the government, They come from our profits. We believe our profits actually increase by rewarding and recognizing our best performers in sales and in service. Competition to be recognized inspires everyone to work harder and smarter. We're as frugal as any company in spending our shareholders' money thoughtfully and responsibly. " He finishes his letter by saying, "Since we aren't thanking our award winners in person this year, we'll have to do it this way. Thank you, all our 281,000 team members."
Mr. Stumpf - perhaps before you start figuring out how to spend your profits, you should figure out how to pay back the 25 billion dollars you took from the American taxpayers. These taxpayers are also your customers. People who are depositing their hard-earned money and paying their hardgotten loans back to your bank.
You have many customers - and shareholders as well, no doubt - who are currently unemployed, and would love to have an all-expense paid trip to Las Vegas. But those won't be paid out of Wells Fargo's profits, will they?
Times are tough for the rest of us, Mr. Stumpf. Perhaps you don't quite have your finger on the pulse of American society from your ivory tower, but you might find it helpful to know that some people in this economy might find the kind of largess you'd like to extend to your employees to be - frankly - a little tacky.
This is not to say you can't recognize your best employees - A nice (although fully taxable) bonus check could do the trick without all of the PR hassles of planning lavish trips.
A little humility can go a long way. You made a good start by thanking all of your employees in a newspaper ad.
It's just too bad you had to spend the rest of your full page ad having a temper tantrum .
Perhaps this latest PR faux pas will end with your forced resignation.