A CNN news report caught my eye. “Wells Fargo’s September from Hell”. The article lays out an overview–a sketch, really– of the scandal involving bogus bank accounts.
On Sept 8, it was announced that 5300 employees of Wells Fargo were fired for fraudulently opening accounts in their customers’ names. Subsequently,
Dozens of fuming former Wells Fargo workers reached out to CNNMoney to share horror stories of the pressure-cooker environment that led to this sordid behavior. Some said they had been fired for refusing to engage in these illegal practices, while others said they were fired for blowing the whistle.
You can read more at CNN.com.
Sept 21, the CEO of Wells Fargo, John Stumpf, was called to testify before Congress. Senator Elizabeth Warren’s tongue-lashing became the the buzz of social media. In addition to calling him “gutless” and telling him he should resign, she said this to Mr. Stumpf:
She said Stumpf’s personal holdings of Wells Fargo stock increased by more than $200 million while the fake accounts “scam” was going on, thanks in part to the bank’s success in selling tons of products to customers that they didn’t need.
“You squeezed your employees to the breaking point so they would cheat customers and you could drive up the value of your stock and put hundreds of millions of dollars in your own pocket,” Warren said. (Also from CNN.com).
In timing that couldn’t be more ironic, the executive Carrie Tolstedt, who oversaw those fired employees, will herself get to retire peacefully. Although she has been asked to forfeit severance pay and performance bonus, she will leave with shares and stock options worth $77 million. This, I am sure, is is a much more generous outcome than is experienced by any of the lowlier employees summarily dismissed from her “pressure cooker.”
To my mind, something deeper is going on. This company had a “month from Hell” in more than one sense. It could be said that all of their months are from hell. And they aren’t likely much different from any of the other giant banks–or, for that matter, from corporations in general. Wells Fargo and most of the rest of the corporate world can be seen as a manifestation or reflection of Hell on earth. They are bloated monsters sucking the lifeblood out of their workers while relentlessly pursuing “Mammon” unmoored from any of the ethical restraints that in past generations might have been provided by Christian teachings (or at least the public shame that could be leveled by gross violations of the same).
My point is not to wax nostalgic for the bankers of old–their yachts were just as surely fueled by greed and ruthlessness. But, by and large, a social compact existed that has since been eroded and killed by a banally evil corporate culture that now pervades all of our economy. Little concern remains for quality in craftsmanship of products, or honesty and integrity in delivering of services–These seem to be given no more than lip service. There is no reputation worth preserving if trashing it will eke out a slightly higher profit margin in the short run.
Smaller firms have been merged and swallowed into an oligarchy of megacorporations. The average worker has seen stagnating wages for much of the last decades, while executive pay has skyrocketed into the stratosphere. For the masses, this means ruin. The noble idea of “the career” has been supplanted by menial and dreadful jobs serving the whims of corporate empires. Surveys indicate that 70 percent of people dislike their jobs. Most of those not fortunate enough to be independently wealthy will have to spend the majority of waking life in the “pressure cooker”–subjected to perverse incentives and demeaning treatment. (The main alternative, I should hasten to add, is the equally demeaning manifestation of hell on earth known as “government bureaucracy”–a worthy topic in its own right).
Carmine Gallo in Forbes magazine opines that people would be happier at work if they were treated better and had a sense that what they are doing is meaningful: The trouble is nobody is inspired to get up Monday morning because their job offers free soda in the vending machine. People want to be inspired. They want to work toward a higher purpose and feel good about themselves and their leader. It requires better communication, not more perks.
We agree. It would be naive to expect a company to provide Heaven on earth, but there could be some steps taken in a better direction.