Acceptance Speech for the Civic Commitment Award

Wriston, Walter B.


With great pleasure, I accept, on behalf of all the men and women of Citicorp, the Anti-Defamation League's Civic Commitment Award.

Some of you will recall a fictional character, Josh Billings, who used to say that "It isn't ignorance that causes so much trouble in the world; it's what people know that isn't so."

People "know" that only rich men's children manage banks. But Citicorp's president grew up on a ranch in Colorado pulling fence and breaking horses. Our vice chairman's father, an Italian immigrant, was a coal miner in Alabama. I come from a little town in Wisconsin, and arrived in New York like so many thousands of others--suitcase in hand. The chairman of our executive committee is a native New Yorker, born in Brooklyn. And what happened to us at Citibank is happening to talented individuals from every kind of background at banks across this country.

People "know" that all bankers are white Americans whose ancestors came over on the Mayflower. We forget that the Mayflower was a very small boat, bringing here only 100 Pilgrims plus two babies born at sea. The latest data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reveal that banking ranked fourth among the nation's industries in the employment of minorities. And a recent survey by the American Bankers Association showed that 12 percent of banking's key jobs were held by minority personnel in 1979.

And people "know" that all bankers are men. Well, it just isn't so. Again, according to government figures, women held 31 percent of the official and managerial positions in the banking industry. This is nearly twice the national average of 17 percent found in the nation's other industries.

Large financial institutions today must be a community of diverse individuals. If they do not reflect and support the larger society around them, these institutions cannot grow and prosper. Our survival depends upon the cultivation of individual talent and upon programs and services that benefit all sectors of society.

Citicorp employees--over half of whom are women and over 30 percent are from minorities--reflect the diversity of our world and of our customers. From the Board of Directors to entry level people, our staff comes from every religious background and from almost every part of the globe.

Citicorp' s senior management, our top 29 officers, include a Jew, Catholics, Protestants, a Greek, a Scot, a Czech-American, a German-American and Irish-Americans. From the next level down--our senior vice presidents and vice presidents-- to the lowest levels of management, Citicorp reflects the religious and ethnic diversification of the communities where we work and live. We even have Anglo-Saxons.

As a service industry, banking depends on individual talent for its success. Old myths and stereotypes about who works for banks are not only misleading, but destructive. Banks will not have a future if they don't attract talented people whatever their background. As a profit-making, international institution, we can't afford to exclude anyone.

And we can least afford to neglect New York City--a world financial center and a major domestic market. As our headquarters city, it's the one place where we are not a guest. We're part of the institutional fabric here, and have a vital business stake in the city's future.

What you and I do as individuals does matter because the individual is the center of the democratic process. Recently Joseph Epstein wrote: "We do not choose to be born. We do not choose our parents. We do not choose our historical epoch, or the country of our birth, or the immediate circumstances of our upbringing. We do not, most of us, choose to die; nor do we choose the time or conditions of our death. But within all this realm of choicelessness, we do choose how we shall live: courageously or in cowardice, honorably or dishonorably, with purpose or in drift. We decide what is important and what is trivial in life. We decide that what makes us significant is either what we do or what we refuse to do. But no matter how indifferent the universe may be to our choices and decisions, these choices and decisions are ours to make. We decide. We choose. And as we decide and choose, so are our lives formed."

I am proud that you have chosen the men and women of Citicorp to honor for their endeavors, and in their name and on their behalf, I thank you.

  • The document was created from the speech, "Acceptance Speech for the Civic Commitment Award," written by Walter B. Wriston for the Anti-Defamation League on 7 October 1980. The original speech is located in MS134.001.004.00020.
This object is in collection Subject Temporal Permanent URL
Component ID:
To Cite:
TARC Citation Guide    EndNote
Detailed Rights