As an information junkie and also a neatnik, I’m continuously waging a battle with the rogue waves of paper that inundate my office. I’m often rewarded, though, with surprising–and sometimes sobering–discoveries.
While recently cleaning out my files, I ran across a set of my notes from a 2003 business event in Seattle where WAMU CEO Kerry Killinger was the featured speaker. In an interesting convergence of events, an article in the Seattle Times a few days later reported the financial settlement related to the demise of WAMU was, at last, final. A highly regarded institution for more than 100 years that represented Northwest reserve, stability and integrity and made us proud was no more, and it’s officially in the history books as the largest bank failure in the U.S.
My notes from just nine years ago reminded of the values Killinger was espousing even as he was leading the iconic institution to destruction. As he told us at the business event, the core values of WAMU were 1) honesty and integrity at all levels, 2) respect for employees and customers, 3) teamwork, 4) innovation, and 5) excellence. As both a customer and a stockholder, I wish that had been as true during the housing bubble as it had been for decades before. But instead of excellent performance based on integrity, honesty and respect for others, WAMU set out to write as many mortgages as possible, regardless of the viability of the deal.
It’s a sad reminder that adopting and espousing impressive core values comprises only the first step of good management. Just as importantly, the leaders of an organization need to demonstrate their commitment to their value through their actions.