Culture of fear?

Mar 30 2009 by Derek Torres Print This Article

Unless you live on another planet, or don't have a bank account, it's hard to miss what's been going on with AIG. In fact, everyone else seems to have their "expert" opinion on what went wrong and why, so there's no need for me to add to the chorus.

What does interest me, however, is an interesting spin put on the whole affair in a recent article in the Telegraph, regarding the culture of fear that exists at AIG. What exactly is this culture of fear? Who is feeling it?

The article centers on a senior-level VP who publicly published his resignation letter in dramatic fashion in the pages of a major American newspaper. This is a guy who wants everyone to know that he was going to give all of his bonus to charity, but whoops… looks like he can't now because the government is going to take it at 90%.

Whether or not that is an honest gesture is of little concern to me; I'd guess that $750,000 to him is probably what $5,000 is to me. Given these comments that the VP makes in print, I can't help but think that in his eyes, it is the media and government that has created a culture of fear at AIG. He seems to imply that the rank and file members of AIG are being pilloried and wrongly blamed.

No, no, you've got it all wrong. First, we know that AIG took a hit because a lot of its clients cashed in their policies when they felt the pinch after digesting some bad assets. I guess that was AIG's bad for not doing better risk assessment. We don't want to scare any rank and file employees – especially those who weren't walking away with obscene bonuses.

I'd guess that the really culture of fear is among those small earners who don't "put their necks on the line each and every day" to make AIG money. They're likely afraid that the general public is going to confuse them with senior-level management of the company, those with multi-million dollar houses, Bentleys, etc.

While I definitely feel for the many employees there who do their job professionally and ethically and who aren't making large bonuses (read: guaranteed salary that is called a bonus to take a lower tax hit), a company is the sum of its parts. The management of the company haven't shown themselves to be of good faith, so why shouldn't be think they're just stoking the flames of the fire?