The Washington Mutual employee who denounced President Steve Rotella at last week's shareholder meeting got an unexpected phone call a couple days later.
A WaMu employee stepped to the microphone at last Tuesday’s shareholder meeting and unleashed a fierce attack on the bank’s leaders, particularly President Steve Rotella.
The public rebuke was stunning — and its private aftermath is equally unexpected.
The 2,000-plus shareholders and employees heard Tom Golon, a loan consultant for 10 years in WaMu’s downtown Seattle home-lending center, declare that “this man has driven the company to the edge of bankruptcy, and he should be fired, and his bonuses should be taken back from him.”
Golon, who is among the approximately 3,000 employees losing their jobs at month’s end, called Rotella “the man most responsible for the demise of WaMu,” adding that he was “kicked out of (JP Morgan) Chase four years ago and came over to WaMu to do his damage.”
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Golon seemed like a candidate for getting canned right away.
But that’s not what happened. Reached by phone two days later, Golon, still working at WaMu, said he’d just received a long call from Rotella.
Rotella, in a brief interview, confirmed that the two spent “more than an hour” on the phone Thursday.
The denunciation in front of shareholders stung, said Rotella, but “people have a right to get up and say what’s on their minds. I understand there’s a lot of frustration on the part of shareholders and some employees.”
It’s not like Rotella didn’t have other fires to tend.
After the shareholder meeting, WaMu executives told analysts the bank faces as much as $19 billion in additional bad loans in the future. And the mortgage business that is part of WaMu’s core is being entirely restructured as the company shutters the remaining 186 lending centers this month and brings that function into its retail-bank branches.
Meanwhile, the large investors who just pumped more than $7 billion into WaMu are no doubt wanting some attention.
But he called because he wanted to personally rebut a few things in Golon’s speech, including “the implication, which I took quite seriously, that I had been booted out of Chase,” Rotella said.
“Nobody likes to have their professional reputation or character impugned in front of people.”
He also argued that he’d been “a leader” in easing WaMu away out of subprime loans and other risky lending, Rotella said.
But he said he did acknowledge to Golon that “you can potentially criticize us for not doing more, faster” ahead of an unexpectedly severe housing downturn.
Golon told him that the company had done a poor job of communicating with employees about their pending termination, Rotella said.
“I apologized for that — and he apologized to me. It was a very fruitful discussion and ultimately we sort of shook hands over the phone.”
Golon didn’t want to discuss the details of his conversation with Rotella, saying only that “he was very laudable in calling like that and explaining his point of view.”
Golon said his outburst at the meeting was welcomed by many colleagues — on the way back to his seat, “I was high-fived by a guy who’s been with the bank for 40 years.”
“I was just representing what a lot of people felt. … We all love Washington Mutual, and we all feel it has been dragged down considerably in the last couple years.”
Golon added that “Steve Rotella may not be the one who’s all to blame for this. But Rotella, (Chairman Kerry) Killinger, the people at the top have to take responsibility.”
As WaMu closes its stand-alone mortgage-lending centers, loan consultants say they are being recruited by banks such as JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo.
“We took a few hours out of the day to listen to those offers” last Wednesday, said another WaMu lender in Seattle, who asked not to be named. (He hastened to add that he was still at his office after 9 p.m. that day, taking care of loan papers for his remaining WaMu customers.)
In California, said Rotella, “whole loan offices are going to work for other companies, and we’re trying to help them in that transition.”
Golon will still have to clear out his desk in the coming days. But he said that at this point he’s “not angry at anyone, because we’re all going to end up in good shape — we’re all sought after because of our experience.”
As for the company that’s casting him out, he said, “It’s been a painful period, but the bank will survive.”
No AC? No problem, architects predict
The architectural firm Weber Thompson moved into its new headquarters in South Lake Union earlier this month, and everyone seems to like it fine so far. But the building’s true test will come in July or August.
The four-story Terry Thomas Building has no air conditioning.
It’s been at least 50 years since a substantial office building was constructed in Seattle without that amenity.
Weber Thompson is counting on the building’s design to keep it cool. There’s a big central courtyard to funnel hot air skyward. And “operable” windows — the old-fashioned kind that open and close — with automated louvers, fixed sunshades and special glass that should help keep the heat out.
The firm even chose computer screens that emit less heat.
“This is the way we did buildings 100 years ago,” says principal Scott Thompson. “What we’ve added is a 21st-century overlay of technology.”
Even with all those innovations, computer modeling suggests temperatures inside the building will climb above 80 degrees about 18 to 21 hours each year.
When that happens, Thompson says, the firm may allow its employees to adopt another innovative solution: Go home early.
He figures that between its “passive-cooling” system and other green features, the 40,000-square-foot Terry Thomas Building will consume 30 percent less energy than a conventional building the same size.
When the new headquarters still was in the talking stage, the firm’s mostly young employees made it clear that a sustainable workplace was a high priority, he says:
“They really held our feet to the fire.”
It made the $10.2 million building a little more expensive to build, he says, but Weber Thompson hopes to earn that back in reduced energy bills and increased worker productivity.
And Thompson says the firm already has received a call from a SoDo property owner interested in doing something similar.
— Eric Pryne
Comments? Send them to Rami Grunbaum: email@example.com or 206-464-8541.
Seattle Times reporter Drew DeSilver contributed to this report.