Reader Responses: How Would You Answer This Question?

A few weeks ago, I posted a video of a particularly challenging media question and asked readers how they would respond to it.

The clip featured Bob Diamond, who was the CEO of the British multinational bank Barclays at the time. During the interview, the reporter asked Diamond to defend his high compensation package—he was reportedly earning north of £20 million/year (roughly $30 million/year), with some reports putting his total compensation package at more than three times that amount.

As a reminder, the interview occurred shortly after the financial crash of 2008 when bankers, who were perceived to have contributed mightily to the crash, were under increased scrutiny.

Here are a few of your responses:
Maura Casey writes:

One reason why I am paid so well is to assure our customers that we are the best bank possible, and that every employee will be treated well and receive compensation that is competitive or better than banks of our size. Which is why I made it my business to make sure that tellers, who are the face of our bank to customers, get paid as well or more than other banks. Most of our customers will never meet me, but they know our tellers, and I assure you that I value them very, very highly.”

I like that approach, Maura, as it honors the tellers without entering a “tit-for-tat” with the reporter. Hopefully the facts support those talking points.

Michael Falk suggests something similar:

“Well, let me assure you that I am far from believing that I, as a person, is worth more than anyone else. But a CEO could be worth a lot to the company, and could be worth a higher salary. The performance of the whole company at least partly depends on the performance of the CEO. The company’s performance can in fact be the difference between expanding or downsizing.”

I also like that approach, Michael. I might keep the first three lines but chop off the final one—there’s no need to bring up downsizing employees, especially while trying to emphasize their importance.

Graham Miller is thinking along similar lines:

“One of my many responsibilities is to look after the welfare of my fellow employees at Barclays who represent this great Bank in cities around the world. We work hard to make sure their jobs are as safe and secure as possible. And to deliver them the best possible working practices that we can. When I was given the opportunity to take on this privileged position as CEO of the Bank the remuneration package was in the public domain and certainly well known to my fellow members of staff. A successful bank is vital for our customers as well as for all of us working for this great institution. And I see it as one of my main priorities everyday, to work as hard as I can for the futures of all of us who are part of this fantastic team.”

Again, a solid approach here. It’s interesting that Graham brings up the salary being part of the public domain. That can be a helpful point, but it’s one I’d be more inclined to use only if pushed on a follow-up question, not as my topline response.

Ike writes: 

“Compensation is an odd thing to talk about, because so many people confuse monetary value with value as a human being. No, I am not 1,000 times more valuable a human being than our fine employees. No one is. But when it comes to delivering value to our shareholders, and steering this corporation in a direction that protects the security of all our stakeholders and employees, that’s a different sort of calculation.”

This may be my favorite response of all, particularly the second and third lines. It’s direct, dispenses with the question authentically, and makes no apology for the high level of compensation.

Christine Saah Nazer offers this:

“Salary and compensation is determined by the free market, and not by any one individual. Thus, company shareholders and board determine the value of my contributions and leadership. And I welcome their evaluation.”

That direct response works well for a topline answer, and Mr. Diamond used a similar technique when answering the question the first time. On the follow-up, however, he might need to go deeper.

Finally, Pedro GR recommends this variation on the theme:

“The work of a good CEO can make the difference to whether the thousand tellers get a pay rise or not. It can decide whether it is possible for the Bank to grow and for a thousand careers to be moved forward. It certainly is a huge responsibility to get paid like that, because it is a huge responsibility to perform for all those hardworking people in the Bank.”

To all of you quoted above (and the others who added their thoughts to the comments section), thank you for weighing in! You make me smarter, and I suspect you make other readers smarter, as well.