From the Mouths of Bankers: 'God's Work' to 'Get F**ked'

PHOTO Clockwise from top left: Lloyd C. Blankfein, Brian Moynihan, James Dimon, and John Mack are shown in these file photos.Reuters/Getty Image
Clockwise from top left: Lloyd C. Blankfein, Brian Moynihan, James Dimon, and John Mack are shown in these file photos.

You can't score one of finance world's highest positions without knowing how to talk a good game. But since the start of the financial crisis, CEOs for some of the country's largest banks seem to be famous as much for their rhetorical flubs as for their sobering financial assessments.

As leaders of four of the nation's largest banks prepare to be grilled Wednesday by the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission -- a Congressionally appointed panel charged with examing the causes of last year's historic economic tumult -- we take a look at some of their more colorful quotes.

John Mack, Morgan Stanley

Former Morgan Stanley CEO and current chairman John Mack may not share some of his peers' penchant for frequent public wisecracks (see Lloyd Blankfein and Jamie Dimon on the following pages), but he's not afraid of tough -- and, at least on occasion, profane -- talk.

VIDEO: John Mack, at Wharton, recounts a testy exchange with the Treasury secretary.Play

"'Tell Tim Geithner to get f**ked.' When you come that close to really going out of business, call it near death, death experience, the end of the line, whatever you want to call it, your only focus is to make sure your company survives."
- Mack didn't censor himself during an Oct. 14, 2009 speech to student at the Univeristy of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business. Here, Mack was recounting the tumultuous days in September when he worked on negotiating a deal with a Japanese bank to inject money into Morgan Stanley and save the bank from a Lehman-like fate. In the middle of Mack's negotiations, Geithner called, demanding to speak with the Morgan Stanley chief immediately. Geithner's apparently annoying insistence sparked Mack's profane rebuke. (Click here to watch a video excerpt of Mack's speech.)

VIDEO: Banks prepare to hand out bonuses as Americans struggle with high unemployment.Play

"We have probably 15 to 20 Fed regulators in our building 24 hours a day … They test our models. They question everything we do. I've never been regulated like that before. It's a different environment. Someone said to me, 'What do you think of it?' I love it."
- Mack explaining his feelings about increased federal oversight at a Nov. 19, 2009, panel discussion hosted by Bloomberg News and Vanity Fair.

"If you look at the subprime problem in the U.S., you would say we're in the eighth inning or maybe the top of the ninth," of a nine-inning baseball game.
- As Blankfein would do that same month (see the next page), Mack used a sports metaphor to make what would prove to be a premature assessment about the nation's economic health in April 2008, according to Reuters.

"Given this unprecedented environment and the extraordinary financial support governments provided to our industry, as the leader of this Firm I recommended to the Compensation Committee of the Board last week that I receive no year-end bonus."
- A Dec. 18, 2009, memo to Morgan Stanley employees in which Mack announced that he would forgo his annual bonus for the third year in a row. He was the first major bank CEO to refuse a bonus in 2009. Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman Sachs

In 2007, the New York Times said that Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein seemed "more master of the quip than master of the universe." These days, with Goldman's blockbuster performance leaving recession-wrecked rivals in the dust, Blankfein maybe be "master of the universe" at last. Still, the quips have kept on coming, though they haven't always served him well.

"We participated in things that were clearly wrong and have reason to regret … We apologize."
- Remarks at the National Association of Corporate Directors in New York City, where Blankfein was honored as CEO of the year on Nov. 17.

"I know I could slit my wrists and people would cheer."
- Blankfein asserted his awareness of the public's disgust with bankers in a Nov. 8, 2009 article by the Times of London. He went on to say that banks were part of a "virtuous cycle" by helping companies grow by helping them raise capital, thus allowing them to hire new workers.

He is a banker "doing God's work."
- Nov. 8, 2009 article in the Times of London. Critics speculated that Blankfein's Nov. 17 apology in New York was sparked by the furor following the "God's work" quote.

"To begin with an obvious point, much of the past year has been deeply humbling for my industry. We held ourselves up as the experts, and the loss of public confidence from failing to live up to the expectations that we created will take years to rebuild. Worse, decisions on compensation and other actions taken and not taken, particularly at banks that rapidly lost a lot of shareholder value, look self-serving and greedy in hindsight."
- Months before the widely-reported apology, Blankfein offered this partial mea culpa April 7, 2009, during remarks before a meeting of the Council of Institutional Investors in New York.

If the credit crisis were a football game, it was "probably in the third or fourth quarter."
- Blankfein made this assessment in April 2008, according to The Associated Press. Five months later, one major investment bank filed for bankruptcy, two others had been bought out and two more, including Blankfein's own Goldman Sachs, had applied to be bank holding companies to help ward off future trouble.

Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan Chase

Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, is largely known for two things -- helping his bank avoid the worst of the financial crisis and being unapologetically blunt while doing it. Among some of his pull-no-punches comments:

"I am a little tired of the constant vilification of these people … This is not a casino." -- Defending bankers during remarks at Jan. 11 health care conference.

"[I]f some unforeseen circumstance should put this firm at risk of collapse, I believe we should be allowed to fail … The term 'too big to fail' must be excised from our vocabulary."
- Op-ed piece, Washington Post, Nov. 13, 2009

"Dear Timmy, we are happy to be able to pay back the $25 billion you lent us. We hope you enjoyed the experience as much as we did. Love, Jamie."
- From a fictional letter to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner that Dimon read aloud during a conference at New York University in early June. The dollar amount referred to the $25 billion that JPMorgan Chase received from the federal government through the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

"Folks, it's become a scarlet letter."
- JPMorgan Chase conference call on April 16, 2009. Dimon was referring to the TARP aid JPMorgan received. During the same call, Dimon referred to TARP as "the TARP baby."

"Buying a house and buying a house on fire are two different things."
- Interview with Charlie Rose in early June during which Dimon explained JPMorgan Chase's decision to bid to buy collapsing investment bank Bear Stearns for just $2 a share. The bank later acquired Bear, with the government's backing, for $10 a share.

Brian T. Moynihan, Bank of America

Having just taken over for predecessor Ken Lewis earlier this month, Moynihan hasn't quite been in the spotlight as much as his peers. But he's already made one thing clear: He's really, really glad that the financial crisis is behind him.

"As an industry, we over-lent and customers over-borrowed, and that led to a fairly significant bubble. If you could rewind the clock, you wouldn't do those things again." -- Bloomberg News television interview, Jan. 4, 2009

"It's just great to be in the year 2010. Actually, it is great to be anywhere other than where we were as a company a year ago." -- Prepared remarks before North Carolina Bankers Association and North Carolina Chamber, according to Bloomberg.