If You Ask Me: A Global Banker Reflects on Our Times
Wriston, Walter B.
Over the past several years, Walter B. Wriston, chairman and chief executive officer of Citibank and Citicorp, which together comprise one of the world's leading financial institutions, has made it a practice to visit with groups of college students. Instead of delivering prepared speeches, Mr. Wriston fielded whatever questions the young men and women threw out. This book, derived from the informal give-and-take of those sessions, has been edited only to smooth out the rough-gaitedness of spoken language and avoid repetition.
In unbankerlike measure, Mr. Wriston takes dead aim at a number of things going on in today's world and deflates them with a scalpel-sharp quip. What he has to say will infuriate some, shock others, and delight those who enjoy a slightly iconoclastic view of things. But Mr. Wriston says it better:
Why do you go around and talk with the kids?
Simple. First, because they ask me. Second, because the world is won or lost in the arena of ideas. Coming out of colleges will be an idea that ten years from now could be the law of the land. This always happens because ideas are powerful, because they can and do change the world.
In my company, for instance, we publish a little book ourselves every eighteen months or so. The first one was on the adequacy of bank capital. It isn't for the layman. But there wasn't anybody in the business schools or among the regulators who had the faintest handle on the subject either, even though that's their business. Their idea of bank capital was very simple--lots more. And we'd say, "What're the criteria?" "We don't know," they'd answer. Our book in that subject provided an answer. You can argue with it, but the point is you now have something to argue with.
Another book we did on growing competition in the financial marketplace shows that Sears, Roebuck has more consumer accounts receivable than all the personal loans of all the banks in New York and Chicago put together. That fact got people's attention. It was also the first time that politicians and journalists knew there were 600 million credit cards in the United States and that only 15 percent of them were issued by banks. They were beating us up for forcing credit on the consumer, and we weren't even the prime factor.
So, we look for good ideas--new ideas--in our shop, outside, on campuses, anywhere. When we find good ideas we push them, well researched and reasoned, in the marketplace. After five or six years even a good idea begins to make an impact. Somebody's got to make an impact. There's a lot out there that needs fixing.