Thursday, October 09, 2008

Party off! AIG's last spending gasp

Well, the old media and new media have been all over the $442K that AIG spent on a "retreat" for its top sales agents at a fancy California spa just a week before the Feds floated them a $85B loan. (Or was it a "loan"?)

I'm sure that all the high, low, and medium dudgeon that this spending has inspired would be even higher if all those dudgeon-ers checked out the St. Regis Resort.

Situated high on a bluff overlooking the majestic Pacific Ocean, stands a landmark resort of legendary proportions. Located midway between Los Angeles and San Diego, the Tuscan-inspired St. Regis Resort, Monarch Beach is devoted to the pursuit of service and elegance with a seamless blend of comfort and technology.

I can't really figure out what the legendary proportions they're talking about are - nor can I figure out what a seamless blend of comfort and technology is.

But I can pretty much guarantee that, at least on an absolute basis, the AIG spending was not all that extreme. I don't know how many sales people were on the jaunt, so on a per capita basis this might have been a wild one. But in absolute terms, this one was not of legendary proportions.

Winners' Circle. President's Club. Golden Eagles.

Whatever they call it, posh vacations as a reward for sales performance are nothing new.

And one year, when I was at Genuity, I even got to participate in one.

It was 2001, and the company was already in the slip, stumble, and fall that ended with Genuity's bankruptcy.

I don't know whether they had room in the inn - the Mandele Bay in Lanai, Hawaii - because not enough sales people made their number, or because they'd decided ahead of time to bring some non-sales folks along. In any case, I was one of a couple of dozen "civilians" chosen as in iLeader (i as in "Internet," get it: we were an Internet Services Provider), and invited to come along with a companion of choice.

My first thought was, 'even in paradise, spending a week with a hundred Genuity sales people is my idea of a nightmare.' But once I found out that a couple of my friends had also been tapped, things started to look up.

All I needed to do was find a companion.

If the week had initially been my idea of a nightmare, it was my husband's idea of an unmitigated horror. So I invited my sister Trish. As Trish was the mother of a then 4 year old, I thought she'd take a pass, and I'd be able to pass the invite on to my sister Kath, thereby gaining sister brownie points going and coming. In either case, I was assured of an ace traveling companion with whom I could shut the door of the room and make complete fun of everything that was happening.

Anyway, Trish jumped at the chance for a luxe vacation, and off we went.

The resort was nothing short of fabulous. We were wined and dined, dined and wined, then wined and dined again.  Not to mention the whale watch, jeep drive through the mountains, shopping trip to Maui, and spa treatments.  Golf, tennis, horseback riding: all free. We had a full menu to pick from, and if all we wanted to do was hang by the pool and get served slushy drinks, that was fine, too.

One night, there was a luau - and just to make sure that we got into the spirit, we all got our pick of a sarong or Hawaiian shirt.

Another night, we had a picnic on the lawn, with a Michael McDonald concert and fireworks.

And the swag?

Let's see: binoculars, golf shirts, tote bags, beach blanket, quilt, specially-designed bowl, beach chairs. All of which was FedExed back home so that we wouldn't have to wait a day for it.

The only crappy gift was the iLeader Award.

I saw those pale blue Tiffany boxes and thought, this might be good.  Too bad it was a lousy glass paperweight, etched with my name and my designation as iLeader. The only use I could think of for it was murder weapon. I think I left it in the hotel room.

Other than that....

What a week!

And tax free, to boot. All we had to do to make in non-tax free was go to a breakfast meeting and listen to a couple of sales guys talk about their success. Definitely worth the price of admission -especially when the price of admission was ZERO.

Every once in a while, one of us would estimate how much this whole shebang was costing the company, and the best guess was $10K/couple. At 100 couples, that would have been a cool $1M, which easily trumps the measly $442K spent by AIG.

And every once in a while, one of us would ask - rhetorically, of course - why a company that was losing money hand over fist was spending money hand over fist. Did the right hand even know what the left hand was doing?

The answer, of course, was that almost all the money had been committed way before, and there was no way out.

Sure, Genuity could have saved the marginal cost of airfare (and of sending all the swag back home FedEx, even though it absolutely, positively didn't have to get their overnight).

So it was, no doubt, with the AIG sales trip.

Absolutely, positively, someone in executive management should have stopped this event in its tracks. Bad timing, bad taste, bad luck, and absolutely, positively rancidly bad publicity.

But were they spending part of "our" $85B on a let them eat cake, smoke cigars, golf, and get a seaweed massage boondoggle?

At the margin, maybe. But no doubt most of the money on this junket was long since spent.

Now, of course, it's out there for all to see, for all to criticize, and for all to exploit to foment "the masses" to call for rolling tumbrels and heads on pikes.

Hey, I like class warfare as much as the next guy, but where does this one all end? With the sound of Madame Dafarge's knitting needles, clicking away?

1 comment:

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