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A "Sorry" Excuse for Leadership

Last week, two former top-ranking Citigroup officials apologized on Capitol Hill for taking the banking giant to the brink of extinction. Former CEO Charles Prince and ex-board member Robert Rubin offered repentance to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission.

Prince ran the company from 2003 through 2007. During much of his watch, Citigroup ran up billions of dollars in losses, eventually causing the U.S. government to spend $45 billion to prevent its collapse. "I'm sorry," said Prince, "that our management team, starting with me, like so many others, could not see the unprecedented market collapse that lay before us."

For his part, Rubin offered regrets but refused to accept responsibility for the day-to-day operations that created the Citigroup debacle. Like Prince, he indicated that the entire banking industry shared the blame, saying that nearly everyone "missed the powerful combination of forces at work and the serious possibility of a massive crisis."

But committee chair Phil Angelides wasn't willing to let the two off the hook so easily. As Angelides put it, "You were either pulling the levers or asleep at the switch."

One might be inclined to admire these leaders for their feeble attempt at falling on their swords. But remember: we're talking about Citigroup, an institution that has repeatedly been embroiled in misbehavior. As the Wall Street Journal said in August 2008, shortly after Prince's reign, "Name nearly any scandal, incompetence or hiccup suffered by the financial industry in the past decade or so, and the chances are Citigroup will have been at its forefront." And Prince and Rubin are two of the leaders who oversaw those failures.

Thanks for the apology, guys. I hope you're not offended if your former employees, customers, and stockholders don't forgive you immediately. 

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