If You Ask Me: A Global Banker Reflects on Our Times
Wriston, Walter B.
Some Final Words on Responsibility
I have a question about responsibility. What do you perceive as Citibank's obligations to society?
The responsibilities of any corporation in today's world are substantial. Our main one at a macro level, is to keep the system going. The official agencies and the central banks can't do it by themselves.
To give you an idea of the scope of the bank's responsibility, when the OPEC embargo hit in 1973, never before in the history of the world were so many financial assets transferred so fast to so many places with so few casualties. It was just unbelievable. The "think" magazines all said that the market couldn't handle it. I believe Citibank was the only one to stand up and say, "The market will handle it." And it did.
Number two: I think we have a responsibility to the community where our people live and work, whether that's in London or Jakarta or New York City.
In most countries, we run a big urban affairs program. In New York during the fiscal crisis either my partner, Bill Spencer, or I worked on the City's problems every weekend for nearly two years. In fact, I spent most of last night on the same subject--rehabilitating New York City's finances. We're over the hump. New York's a great city; it shouldn't go down.
We also have the social problems of affirmative action. We have a vice-president and his staff devoting full time to urban problems. I don't say we're making big progress. We're not. But we're leaning on the margin and exerting a little weight.
Another aspect is whether we have the right, let alone the responsibility, to take a public position on a public issue--the so-called freedom of speech of a corporation. I happen to believe strongly that we do have that right and . Our officers speak out freely. One day I was saying in London that it was crazy to go back on the gold standard. The chief of our foreign economics department was making a speech in New York the same day saying the gold standard was the only way to go. So we have a very loose society--a democracy in our shop--and that's the way I like it.
But I think that to carry out our social responsibilities, we have to get involved in the political process. That's not easy to do because businessmen do not like to take positions. We have no right to cry, if we don't get down and fight. We'll lose some--I've lost a lot of them--but we can't win any until we get involved.