Values and Obligations of Leadership

Wriston, Walter B.


As these discussions come to a close, we need to remind ourselves of the implications of our positions in the corporation.

The senior corporate officer of Citicorp holds one of the most distinguished appointments in professional life. All of us realize that we owe much of our status as persons to our association with the corporation. Although each of us has made positive contributions to the current success of Citicorp, for the most part, we benefit from the institutional heritage, the accomplishments of previous generations of management, and a considerable degree of good fortune. We are privileged people to be around this table--in these times--doing what we are doing.

Few of us come from inherited wealth or status; most of us are not persons of property; most of us are sons and daughters of relatively modest people, contemporary reflections of the social origins of business leadership throughout history. Most of us are blessed with ability, motivation, and ambition. Opportunities for superior education were available in the formative years. But the prominence, power, and affluence that all of us enjoy derive from our common association with this corporation. This association has transformed us from ordinary persons into extraordinary persons; from persons nobody knew to persons whom everybody envies, from persons of no particular consequence to persons whose decisions affect the lives of many; from persons without institutional identity to persons associated with a corporation upon which the world counts.

The transforming effect that Citicorp has had on us as persons provides the insight into what the institution is to the world. For the most part, the corporation has similar effects on its total staff, the customers it serves, the communities in which it resides, and on the global society of which it is an important member. The essence of Citicorp is that all who touch it, relate to it, associate with it, are transformed from what they are to something better. The capacity that this institution has to transform--in their own terms--those it serves constitutes the moral foundation for the legitimacy of our enterprise.

An analogy--stretching the point perhaps--is the theological notion of the sacrament. The instrumentality of the sacrament is a physical thing, but to those who partake, by physical and spiritual association, the consequence is to lift them to a higher plane of fulfillment. In a secular context--Citicorp--at its best, is an instrumentality which elevates those who associate with it.

We--the responsible persons in charge--can never compromise the objective to trying to build the ideal Citicorp or our belief that this can be done. This requires that we take honest cognizance of errors and shortcomings, and deal with them so that, collectively, we are working constantly to make this happen.

Our people believe that this corporation is great and good; they believe it is great because it is good, and principally because it is good, they serve willingly, with dedication, and with loyalty. They also serve because they experience the transforming effect of the corporation on them as persons. But, in the great tradition of open communications in this association, (which sometimes we view mistakenly as defiance of corporate authority), they say that they do not perceive a commonly held sense of where we are and where we are going in this group. They are not naive; they know that this organization has vast power, that each of us has power, and that there will always be differences of opinion and competition--tough competition--among us. But our people will not permit us to be ordinary; they insist on extraordinary standards for us because they believe Citicorp is special, and because they believe this group is capable of a special kind of leadership. The people say that Citicorp's power should not be augmented for the benefit of individuals in the leadership group or for the sole purpose of increasing short term corporate profit. They say that the corporate leadership must be guided by the moral proposition of contributing to the worth of those we serve, and they say that competitive success and superior profitability will flow from the observance of that basic social contract. They say to us that we are a group with special power and special influence and, therefore, we have to assume special responsibilities--to them; to our customers; to the community; and to each other. They perceive that we may not realize these things as clearly as we should, and they want to sense this group's acceptance of its special obligations, as a result of these proceedings. And, if they sense that we have done this, they will continue their commitment to our corporation and will lead us through this next era of achievement.

We have spent time reflecting together on our history. It is rich in insight and perspective on our present position. We can see the institution evolving with almost predetermined purpose.

The sense of our history is that we have reached, or are close to, another watershed point; we are now a pivotal, global institution, but are not fully accepted as such. In fact, the world has never seen an investor-owned banking intermediary of our size and significance. Citicorp is one of the unique institutions in today's world. We are already so important that what happens to us is important to the global society--to world peace, to world prosperity--matters like that. Our most thoughtful people understand this. If we go down, institutions like us will go down, and the things we stand for and the way we do things will go down also. The world will look then to other institutions, to other methods to achieve a decent life. And who would doubt that alternatives to institutions like us and what we stand for would lead the human race down a dangerous path, toward another "dark age."

Ahead of us is a turbulent, uncertain environment. The institutions and forces that funded the great period of world prosperity in the '50s and '60s are not in control. Another recession is widely predicted in the next 2-3 years. New patterns are defining themselves. We must be prepared to endure under stress, but also to look for the opportunities that disordered conditions create. We need to have balance, flexibility, and the courage to see our way through. Above all, we must achieve legitimacy for our institution as an asset which the world community needs and desires to preserve in its present form.

These are the realities; they are here; they are not things that are forthcoming, or that might be. Our total history has carried us to this point of high consequence; we will succeed if, and only if, the leadership which emanates from this group is adequate to the tasks.

We can re-state and re-affirm the total mission of the corporation in the next decade, and the attendant implications.

Citicorp will accomplish this mission by accepting the responsibilities associated with its moral commitment to service, the roles it plays at all levels of activity in this regard, and by managing its core businesses according to its beliefs and values. In doing so, Citicorp will continue to receive the respect and endorsement of its principal constituencies, thereby assuring its survival, and continue to perform as the most respected, competent, innovative, and profitable investor-owned financial intermediary in the world.

Accomplishment of the corporate mission also assures that the corporation can realize its commitment to all members to assist them to grow to their ultimate potential as professionals and persons.

These concepts define both a mission and an operative set of values. If these values are to prevail in the corporation, the leadership group must exemplify them because leadership behavior is always a model behavior for all.

In the most fundamental sense, the corporate value system does not sanction compromise of its essential character and commitment to service, or a capitulation to any of its constituencies. Citicorp's constituent relationships are premised on mutual respect for the character of each as it is. These are voluntary relationships. The imperatives of the corporate value system derive from the service obligations that inhere in these kinds of relationships, and give us benchmarks for assessing our behavior and our actions.

  • The document was created from the speech, "Values and Obligations of Leadership," written by Walter B. Wriston for a First National City Bank Board meeting during the 1970s. The original speech is located in MS134.001.002.00007.
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