WaMu: A Cautionary Tale about Core Values

A recent opinion piece in The Seattle Times offers an enlightening perspective on the rapid decline and eventual demise of Washington Mutual. Formerly a senior vice president of WaMu, Mark C. Crowley says the bank’s sad ending was due to an intentional move away from the first three of the five core values (fair, caring, human, dynamic and driven) that had built the highly respected Northwest-based institution into a national powerhouse.

Why would leaders of a venerable institution choose to abandon values that had endured for well over 100 years? Reviewing the events leading to the largest bank failure in the history of the U.S., Crowley says that after President and COO Steve Rotella was brought in to help CEO Kerry Killinger run the fast-growing organization after a financial loss in 2004, Rotella chose to ignore “fair, caring and human” in favor of “dynamic and driven.” Caught up in the race to write as many mortgage loans as possible for short-term shareholder gains, the new leader took an approach that soon generated 50% turnover. Employees sensed that they no longer mattered, customers complained that service  had disappeared, traditional loan standards were abandoned–and in just a few years the entire organization disappeared.

WaMu had lost its heart. Ironically, Crowley says, WaMu’s five core values–in balance–are exactly the values that will drive success in 21st-Century organizations, just as they served as a solid foundation for WaMu over its first 115+ years. Author of a new book, Lead from the Heart: Transformational Leadership for the 21st Century, Crowley concludes that “successful leadership requires a balance…between our minds–and our hearts.” Read his entire article at http://tinyurl.com/4xw6m3o


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