It was the wastebasket.
That did it for me.
No, you can’t justify $87,000 for a rug and you can’t justify $35,000 for a commode – yes, a commode – but you really, really can’t explain $1,400 for a wastebasket.
Made out of parchment.
Who buys a wastebasket that can catch fire faster than the trash inside it?
These were just some of $1.22-million decorating expenses incurred by John Thain, the former chief executive officer of Merrill Lynch who was ousted after merging with Bank of America for hiding last-quarter losses of around $15 billion.
Fifteen billion in losses?
That’s a lot of wastebaskets.
Yet that didn’t stop Thain from whining about his dismissal, it didn’t stop him from seeking a $10-million bonus for himself, and it didn’t stop him from rushing out billions – yes, again, billions – in bonuses for his executives even as he was taking billions of our taxpayer money for a bailout.
Honestly. Where do you begin with this guy? Trying to justify things
Let’s begin here, with Thain’s lame attempt to explain himself in an interview with CNBC.
When a reporter asked why he felt a need to redecorate the office after inheriting it from his predecessor in late 2007, Thain said this:
“Well, heh, um, his office was very different, uh, than, uh, the, the general decor of, uh, Merrill’s offices. Uh, it really would have been, uh, very difficult, uh, for, uh, me to use it in the form that it was in.”
The “uh’s” say it all. Come on. How bad could an ex-CEO’s office be? Were there dead animals in there? Dry rot? Mold?
“So in an environment where jobs are being cut and clearly salaries are being cut and the firm is reporting all of these losses,” the CNBC reporter asked, “did it occur to you at some point I’d better to put this off?’ “
“Remember,” Thain shot back, “this was back in, it really started in, December of ’07, so the financial industry hadn’t melted down yet. I had every expectation that Merrill Lynch would be a large, successful company.”
So, in his mind, that would have justified $1.22 million on decorating. Because profits would be up. Stock price would be high. And people like Thain could do whatever they wanted to do. He could order an $18,000 George IV desk because, after all, he was a king himself, wasn’t he?
And therein lies the problem. Even as he is being pasted in the media, Thain (whose corporate nickname was once I-Robot) doesn’t get why he can’t still be a Master of the Universe, where CEOs rule the game because they’re smarter, faster and, doggone it, richer than the rest of us.
Of course, Thain ran off for a ski vacation when news emerged that his company lost billions. So I guess “braver” isn’t one of his adjectives. Make an example of all of ’em
Now, Thain is hardly the only CEO dipped in a sense of privilege. True, he was paid a whopping $83 million in 2007 and stood to earn as much as $120 million last year, so you’d think he could have purchased his own $16,000 coffee table.
Instead, when things went sour, he still wanted his bonus. He blamed the economy for the losses. Of course, he never credited the economy when everything was shooting up. Then it was somehow just his brilliance.
Or maybe it was the commode.
Either way, he needs to be held up and lambasted. Sure, he points to other companies, he claims this is par for the course in Wall Street, he wonders, why pick on him?
Which reminds me of a scene in the movie “Stand By Me” where a young hero pulls a gun on a gang of thugs led by Keifer Sutherland. Sutherland says, “What are you gonna do, shoot all of us?”
And the kid says, “No only you.”
For now, begin with Thain. Shame him, deride him, hold him up and then move on to the next guy who does this, because the spineless nature of these guys will quickly emerge: They all want to be rich; none of them wants to be humiliated.
We have endured such shameless behavior before (remember Tyco’s Dennis Kozlowski and his $6,000 shower curtain?), but in this New Depression, it can’t be tolerated and it can’t be sloughed off. Enough is enough. If they won’t stop this elitist immorality, the government should make them.
Remember, it’s our money being given out. And $1 million could be 20 middle-class jobs, 20 Americans who wouldn’t have to sell their homes or pull their kids from college – just so the Thains of the world can toss their trash into parchment.
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org.