The master of ceremonies made a mistake as he named John Thain one of the year’s best dads, introducing him as the chief executive officer of Citigroup. “Vikram Pandit will be very unhappy,” Thain responded, accepting an award from the Father’s Day/Mother’s Day Council on June 14. “I’m actually the CEO of CIT, which is similar, but not quite the same.”
The confusion was understandable. Pandit was saluted by charities three times in June. And in the past two months more than a half dozen current and former bank chiefs have been honored in New York, including Bank of America’s Brian Moynihan, JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon, and Morgan Stanley’s James Gorman. On May 1, a day of international protests against Wall Street, Goldman Sachs Group President Gary Cohn accepted an award for the firm from Friends of the High Line, which supports the park on Manhattan’s West Side. Hen-of-the-woods mushrooms and slow-braised short ribs were served. Cohn said Goldman Sachs and its employees have given more than $6 million to the park. “Look, the whole idea of these things is to raise money for the charity,” said Thain in an interview after accepting his Father of the Year award. “The demonization of Wall Street and bankers is very much a function of the press and of Washington, and not much more broadly held.”
Nonprofits often honor bankers because of their donations, says Naomi Levine, executive director of New York University’s George H. Heyman Jr. Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising. “Does this make me happy? No, it doesn’t. I look at what some of the banks and other insurance companies have done to the American economy and I’m not comfortable with it,” she says. “You try to balance your criticism of some of the things that Wall Street has done with the need.”
Pandit was the most frequently feted of the bank CEOs. A trio of June salutes began with Chaka Khan singing I’m Every Woman and Lionel Richie performing Three Times a Lady at a gala for Harlem’s Apollo Theater. Pandit got a corporate award in recognition of the company’s support—$1.6 million to the Apollo Theater Foundation since 2002, according to Elizabeth Fogarty, a bank spokeswoman. Former Citigroup Chairman Richard Parsons heads the foundation’s board.
A 22-piece Latin band and the singer Josh Groban performed when Pandit was honored on June 7 by Boys & Girls Harbor, which runs a music conservatory and school programs in Harlem. The bank and its foundation have given more than $500,000 to the group since 1972, Fogarty says. She says the lender has given the same amount since 2005 to the Museum of the City of New York, which presented Pandit with a leadership award at a June 18 black-tie dinner, where guests had a private viewing of an exhibition on the history of New York banking. Citigroup is sponsoring the show to mark the firm’s 200th anniversary, according to a press release.
“Citi has had a long and fulfilling relationship with these institutions, and it is especially meaningful to be honored during our 200th anniversary,” Pandit said in an e-mail. Citigroup shareholders rejected Pandit’s $15 million pay package for 2011 in a nonbinding vote in April. The company’s stock has plunged more than 90 percent since he became CEO in December 2007.
Dimon was named executive of the year by the University of Rochester’s Simon Graduate School of Business at its May 3 conference, “Economic Action and the Management of Risk.” The honor is given to a leader who “demonstrates a deep respect for our nation’s fiscal health,” according to the school’s website. A week later, Dimon disclosed a $2 billion trading loss in a division that helps manage the firm’s risk. “The developments don’t change our fundamental assessment,” Mark Zupan, the school’s dean, said in an e-mail. “If anything, the manner in which Mr. Dimon has handled the adversity only has increased our esteem for him.” The award wasn’t given because of donations, Zupan said.
Dimon was celebrated again on May 24 at the Salute to Freedom gala, an annual fundraising dinner for New York’s Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum held on the hangar deck of the landmarked aircraft carrier. “To all the active military members and veterans in the room: I’d go into the foxhole with any of you, and I hope I wouldn’t let you down,” Dimon said, according to a transcript of his remarks. Last year the bank agreed to pay $56 million to settle claims that it overcharged soldiers on their mortgages and improperly seized the homes of active-duty military personnel. Dimon said then that he and the bank “deeply apologize.”
Morgan Stanley’s Gorman and Bank of America’s Moynihan were lauded the same day Dimon was named best executive. Wearing a tuxedo on the roof of the St. Regis Hotel, Gorman received an award from International House, a New York residence for graduate students. Moynihan was honored by the American Ireland Fund in a Lincoln Center tent.
At the Father of the Year awards at the Sheraton New York Hotel, host Mark Shriver apologized for bungling his introduction of Thain, who has been CEO of CIT Group since February 2010. “I thought it was a misspelling,” said Shriver, senior vice president of nonprofit Save the Children. “It said CIT—I’m like, this has got to be Citi.” As CEO of Merrill Lynch, Thain arranged its 2008 sale to Bank of America and left after Merrill’s $15 billion loss forced the combined firm to seek more government support. After the event, he said the importance of raising money for charity overshadows potentially awkward conversations about business. “I don’t really mind people asking me questions,” he said. “Whatever happened in 2008, 2009, there’s lots and lots of misinformation, and things that are just wrong, but I’ve never minded talking about it.”