Gettysburg. Chickamauga. Washington Mutual.
Like those bloody Civil War battles, which are still studied by military tacticians and re-enacted by history buffs, the calamitous collapse of WaMu is now being harnessed as a teaching tool.
Thirty current and future leaders at Consumers National Bank, a 12-branch community institution in northeastern Ohio, recently spent two days reliving scenarios from the rise and fall of the Seattle-based thrift.
“They really got into it. And it was enjoyable both to lead and to watch,” reports Stephen Ingalls, who devised the exercise as part of a two-year leadership-training program he’s doing for Consumers. “Some of them really got into character.”
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Ingalls, a retired lieutenant colonel, says that back in the Army, officers in training “would go and walk battlefields” from the Civil War to get “a visceral sense of the activity and an appreciation of what went wrong, what went right.” To survey more recent battles in Afghanistan or Iraq, officers conduct a “virtual staff ride.”
He got the idea of doing something similar around Washington Mutual because someone at Consumers had been reading “The Lost Bank” by Kirsten Grind, says Ingalls, the president of LGL Leadership in Lansing, Kan.
With the book as his guide, Ingalls fashioned six episodes for the group to act out and discuss. These included the early days of Lou Pepper assembling his WaMu banking team in the 1980s; the transition to Kerry Killinger as CEO; the acquisition of the subprime lending machine called Long Beach Financial; and so on through the bank’s final days.
“We definitely did not debate what is a good mortgage loan and what isn’t,” says Ralph Lober II, the president and CEO of the bank’s holding company, Consumers Bancorp. “It was more about the culture and leadership styles and not about the banking.”
The preparations included lengthy phone conversations with both Grind and Lee Lannoye, a former WaMu chief credit officer and executive vice president who became an outspoken critic of Killinger near the end.
And the bank execs playing JP Morgan chief Jamie Dimon, WaMu President Steve Rotella and other key characters “went out and researched additional information on their own,” says Ingalls.
Usually it was one person per character, but there were exceptions, says Ingalls: “We had what we called the early Kerry, kind of the boy genius that Mr. Pepper saw, and then we had the later Kerry, the guy who grew the bank beyond really his ability to control it.”
As casting director, he assigned the role of the later Killinger to Consumers president Lober, “because I wanted him to be uncomfortable, and he was put on the spot a lot.”
With each episode, his goal was to “look at the peaks and valleys and figuratively put these people on an emotional bus ride,” Ingalls says. Then they would “step back and talk about the general leadership lesson they would take away.”
Both men consider the program a big success.
“We want to hear people talking about it in the hallway,” says Lober, and they did. But he emphasizes that it wasn’t the banking subject matter that was crucial: “There’s probably a manufacturing company that could use this book, and there’s probably a bank that could use a manufacturing company (as a teaching tool). It’s how you use the lessons.”
Says Ingalls: “This is the first time we’ve tried something like this, but it’s not going to be the last time. It turned out so well, I know we’re going to repeat it again.”
Redbox rises above icky Oscars reference
You can’t buy the sort of publicity that comes from being talked about on live TV with hundreds of millions watching. And in some cases, you wouldn’t want to.
Redbox, the movie-rental kiosk network that is Bellevue-based Coinstar’s most valuable brand, got an unexpected mention partway through the Oscars telecast from host Seth MacFarlane.
But while praising the nominees’ work and mocking his own, the edgy creator of TV’s animated Family Guy and the film “Ted” wasn’t kind to Redbox:
“Your movies are going to win awards. My movies are in Redboxes outside of grocery stores being urinated on by bums,” he said.
That indelible image might have provoked a Hollywood-style hissy fit at some companies.
But Redbox, which had heavily promoted its inventory of Oscar-nominee movies, managed a classy response on Twitter:
“…and we couldn’t be happier about it, @SethMacFarlane. (Though we might disagree about the bum thing.),” the company promptly tweeted, adding: “Rent TED here.”
A spokeswoman for the Chicago-based Redbox unit says its “Twitter team” wasn’t caught napping: “The Oscars is obviously the biggest night for our industry so we absolutely had people monitoring the show.”
MacFarlane’s gag was unexpected, but “it was all done in good fun” and signifies that Redbox is a widely recognized brand, she says. “It’s still nice to know that Redbox is a brand that’s known to the masses.”
“We even sent him a little gift, essentially acknowledging the joke that he made and that we appreciated the shoutout.”
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