So CEO’s: what do you think of the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon?
Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit has weighed in about the Occupy protests, saying “Their sentiments are completely understandable. Trust has been broken between financial institutions and the citizens of the U.S., and that is Wall Street’s job, to reach out to Main Street and rebuild that trust. … I’d be happy to talk to them anytime.”
Hedge Fund Manager John Paulson said, “The top 1% of New Yorkers pay over 40% of all income taxes, providing huge benefits to everyone in our city and state. … Instead of vilifying our most successful businesses, we should be supporting them and encouraging them to remain in New York City and continue to grow.”
Laurence Fink, CEO of Blackrock: “The protesting is a statement (that) the future is very clouded for a lot of people. These are not lazy people sitting around looking for something to do. We have people losing hope and they’re going into the street, whether it’s justified or not.”
Wall Street watcher and author of “The Big Short” Michael Lewis: “They’re right to be angry, but they have to figure out what they want if they’re going to have any effect. If there were specific demands, it would start to get very interesting.”
All of these quotes come from Bloomberg.com which has great coverage of business reaction.
(Another source of quotes that is less polished and outright disdainful of the protesters is anonymously represented in a Saturday New York Times piece. The headline does not come close to capturing the derisive tone of comments in the piece: In Private, Wall Street Bankers Dismiss Protesters as Unsophisticated.“)
The “Occupy” movement has been criticized for not articulating a true agenda. I am not sure this is true, but regardless, the protests are making the pain and anger graphic and un-ignorable. That alone could prove to be a meaningful contribution. The Tea Party is a similar phenomenon. Putting aside the merits of the arguments and the many distinctions, both movements reflect that the American people are traumatized by very simple realities like dramatically declining wages, unprecedented stress on daily life, unresponsive government, and a loss of confidence in the future. Dignity is shattered but this goes far beyond the psychological state of America.
Are the protesters antibodies reacting to infections in the nation? I asked Dr. Joshua Boger, prominent scientist, founder/former CEO of Vertex Pharmaceutical (and a co-founder of PBLN) and got a helpful response:
Not sure the metaphor of antibodies works. [Anti-bodies] are by definition mindless and amoral. And if principled their only principle is self = good and non-self = bad. [Former Vice President Al] Gore captures the collective consciousness a bit better by calling the actions a “primal scream”. As usual, Nick Kristof’s column on the subject is spot on.
A teaser here of Kristof’s opening line:
It’s fascinating that many Americans intuitively understood the outrage and frustration that drove Egyptians to protest at Tahrir Square, but don’t comprehend similar resentments that drive disgruntled fellow citizens to “occupy Wall Street.”
PBLN’s Board Chair and also a co-founder Tom Dretler (former CEO of Eduventures, Inc. and Executive in Residence at Sterling Capital Partners) cut to the heart of the matter: “the American Dream can’t be a mirage.”
We’ll share more business leader perspectives on the protest movement in this space.
More importantly we look forward to engaging the substantive outrages that lie beneath at our jobs-focused CEO Summit on November 10 at UMass Boston and forming a long-term action agenda for business leadership. Please share your views in comments here – and if you are a business leader yourself, contact us about the Summit and we’ll sign you up so you can get directly involved.