AIG exec donates bonus, says public anger is unfair

Just because someone is rich, it doesn't mean he's a crook. Just because someone works on Wall Street, it doesn't mean he's greedy. And just because someone is an AIG employee, it doesn't mean he's not an honest, hard-working person, just like the rest of us.

Indeed, that's how Jake DeSantis, an executive vice president of the American International Group's (AIG) financial products unit feels. He has resigned from AIG with a very moving letter to CEO Liddy made public in The New York Times.

DeSantis explains how no more than a handful of the 400 current employees of AIG's financial products unit were responsible for the credit default swap transactions that hurt the insurer -- and our economy -- so badly. The rest were and are hard working individuals who used to earn millions for the company each year.

When the crisis hit, he agreed to take a salary of $1 per year, as did other executives. They've been hard at work in the crucial work of dismantling the unit. They were promised they would be rewarded and put in 10, 12, 14 hours days. They've done it "out of a sense of duty to the company and to the public officials who have come to its aid."

It is no wonder then that DeSantis feels hurt. More than that, he feels betrayed -- betrayed by the company and by government officials as the public outrage is directed at AIG. Interestingly, those who are to blame left the company and escaped all that.

To make a clean break, DeSantis declared his intention to donate his entire post-tax retention bonus in the amount of $742,006.40. He intends to keep none for himself, but donate it all to those suffering from the recession.

Reading the DeSantis letter, one can't help but feel for him and others who have done nothing wrong yet are made to suffer for it. But DeSantis is forgetting something crucial. It doesn't matter if his own actions or his own department caused AIG's losses or not. If the company wasn't bailed out but was like any other company, he would have likely never gotten these retention payments in the first place.

In the 1990s, I worked for a company that went belly up. We know well the promises companies make, and the actions that are actually done. Often, employees at such companies agree to work far more for far less just to help the company. And contracts or not, employees at struggling companies often do not get what they are owed. AIG is no different. It's just that the amounts are larger and the people who work there are not used to such treatment.

The personal attacks against AIG employees are unwarranted. DeSantis appears to be quite the classy guy, and it stands to reason that there are more like him at AIG and in the banks and on Wall Street. Even so, while this should make us think twice before we condemn everyone in the financial world, most of whom had nothing to do with this whole fiasco, DeSantis should admit that there is something indecent about the AIG bonuses. And that's why he's done an admirable thing giving his away.
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