Apparently they don’t cover this in business school. When you’re the CEO of one of the most despised companies in the world, it’s probably best to not repeatedly make a statement that equates public outrage over unmerited executive bonuses with lynch mobs.
In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, AIG CEO Bob Benmosche — who took over the bailed-out insurer in 2009 — he tried to explain that bonuses, which many people view as additional compensation, are actually “core compensation” for people who work in financial markets.
His argument goes along pretty smoothly until he then states that the backlash against big bonuses “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.”
Yes, he just said that being angry about executives at bailed-out businesses taking home bonuses larger than you might earn in a decade of work is “just as bad and just as wrong” as chasing someone down, tying a noose around his neck and hanging him to death.
Obviously, some people might disagree. Even if you accept his argument that outrage aimed at bankers and financial institutions was a result of mob mentality, Benmosche and his cronies were never in danger of being hunted down and strung up from a tree. It’s just a hunch, but I’m pretty sure every one of the thousands of people who were lynched would much rather have had their salaries cut than die in such a horrendous fashion.
Realizing that what he said might have gone over like a lead balloon, Benmosche issued a semi-apology, stating, “It was a poor choice of words. I never meant to offend anyone by it.”
Thing is, this isn’t the first time Benmosche has pulled out the old lynching metaphor.
In 2009, shortly after taking over as CEO, he used virtually the same description to talk about the public’s anger directed at AIG and its employees.
“A lot of them feel hurt, embarrassed, a lot of people have lived in fear because of what I call lynch mobs with pitchforks,” he said at the time.