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If you like Sanford Weill's story, you might also like:
Ray Dalio,
Lawrence Ellison,
Rudolph Giuliani,
Henry Kravis,
Stephen Schwarzman
Dennis Washington
and Elie Wiesel

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Sanford Weill in the Achievement Curriculum section:
Thinking Outside the Box

Related Links:
Weil Hall

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Sanford Weill
Sanford Weill
Profile of Sanford Weill Biography of Sanford Weill Interview with Sanford Weill Sanford Weill Photo Gallery

Sanford Weill Interview (page: 4 / 4)

Financier and Philanthropist

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  Sanford Weill

What contribution that you've made do you feel is the most important?

Sanford Weill Interview Photo
Sanford Weill: I would prefer other people to talk about if I made a contribution. Things I've done that have really been good have been very diverse. From the business point of view, always encouraging the people in our company to own stock in the company, and if we're going to build something great, to have a lot of people share in the benefits of that greatness. Not just from a pride point of view, but a financial point of view.

A lot of people at Shearson ended up making a lot of money because they had stock or stock options. Their kids were able to go to college, and it changed a lot of people's lives. The same thing has happened here at Travelers Group. Our stock has gone up about 11 times in 10 years and it's owned by 45,000 people. It's been an important thing in increasing the options people have.

Sanford Weill Interview Photo
We can go from that area to the Academy of Finance Program I helped found in 1980, which is a program to teach young people about a career in the financial services business. It started in one high school in Brooklyn, John Dewey High School, with 30 students. We are now in over 200 schools, in 30 states and the District of Columbia, with about 15,000 students.

Over 90 percent of them go on to some form of higher education. Every one of them get summer internships so they can see that there is something beyond that entry level job. What unlocks that is education. It really changes people's lives. If this country is going to be a leader 50 years from now, we have to get the people of this country to understand the process and to know that they too can achieve a dream. That's a terrific thing that I've been involved in.

I've been involved with Carnegie Hall for the last 13 years, and Chairman for the last six. I feel really good about what we've done growing our educational programs there, building a board that has made Carnegie Hall really a world-class institution. It really represents America in the world of music.

What about this new museum?

Sanford Weill Interview Photo
Sanford Weill: The people in Baltimore are building a children's museum right near the aquarium. Our company is working with Disney to create a game for children between the ages of maybe four and 12, so we can teach them what the capitalist system is all about. I'm excited about creating this new game. It may be a modern version of Monopoly, although I don't think Monopoly ever gets old. Maryland Public Television is going to have their studio right next to the new museum. I hope we can use that to transmit this game all over the country and reach a broad audience.

You realy believe in giving back to society.

Sanford Weill: I believe in giving back very strongly. I've been so lucky in what's happened to me. I think half the fun is doing things while you're still here. Not just giving back in the form of money, but giving back in your time and ability, so that the money you give also works to make things better. The more we can do to create a better society, that benefits more people, the better chance we have that our society will continue to grow and prosper. It's been great to me, and I hope it's great to my children's grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

You talk about the recapture of Shearson as one of the more exciting things that's happened in your career.

Sanford Weill: American Express was going through changes and they had lots of issues. The new Chairman was Harvey Golub, a person that I had hired to work at American Express. I knew he was a logical person, but you can't fix everything all at once, nobody can, so it made sense for him to get rid of some things. We already owned a company called Smith Barney, and Shearson was a company that I had started. It was terrific, having the opportunity to buy that back.

When we were doing this, I went to 20 or 25 different cities and met all of the brokers. It was a terrific feeling, coming together again with people that I grew up with. We had built one business, and now we had the opportunity to do it again. When we acquired Shearson, that gave us a lot more opportunities for distributing financial products. It encouraged the people at Travelers to want to merge their whole company with us, rather than letting us own just 25 percent of it. I think the most excitement is yet to come.

What do you see happening?

Sanford Weill: Change, globalization of all things in the world. You never want to think the best things are in the past. You want to get yourself to believe that the best things are going to be in the future. You really don't know what that is, we haven't read tomorrow's newspaper. That's the exciting thing about getting up in the morning, thinking about it, strategizing and seeing what may happen.

People say that you're destined to go for another big deal, do you agree with that?

Sanford Weill: We're fortunate that we're in industries that are consolidating. The whole financial industry is consolidating in the United States. And as U.S. companies, we're looking at how we're going to participate around the world.

Sanford Weill Interview Photo
Our company is very strong financially. It's done very, very well. It's not leveraged in anything we do, so I think we're positioned to do that. We've got to be careful that we don't get too greedy, that, when the right opportunities come along, we're not too busy working on something that's not nearly as important.

I've heard you're a real detail person.

Sanford Weill: Details create the big picture. I'm not as involved in every little thing as I used to be. We have really terrific people in our company, but I've had the luck of starting at the bottom, so I know the pieces that one puts together a business from. It's important to know what you're talking about and not be a big macro person that's flying above everybody's head.

You insist that your executives own stock and take a personal interest in how the company runs.

Sanford Weill: We think that ownership is really key.

Ownership gets people to think like owners, to think that the company is really theirs. Really good ideas and innovative ideas come from the bottoms of organizations -- not really the tops of organizations -- where people are dealing directly with the customers and really understand what the market wants, rather than dictating what the market wants, where people can see the silly things that the chairman may be doing, or whatever, that's wasting a lot of money and there might be a better way to do it.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

We encourage people to think that way. The best way to do that is through ownership. If we build something great, like we have at Travelers Group so far, a whole host of people benefit. When our company went public about ten and a half years ago with Commercial Credit here in Baltimore, we paid our directors in stock. Very few companies did that in those years. Today, 14 of our 15 independent directors have over a million dollars worth of stock. I don't think there's another company in America where the directors own so much. So they think about what's really important.

Sanford Weill Interview Photo
Part of what our top executives get paid every year is in stock, rather than cash. We have an agreement with each other, as well as our directors, that none of us can sell the stock, we can only give it away to charity. So that as long as we're going to be active in the business, we're increasing our ownership and increasing our involvement, rather than decreasing it. We also want to encourage people to do things in their community, therefore we can use some of that appreciation to make charitable contributions.

Now we're broadening it out. Everybody in our company -- all 60,000 people -- will be given stock options, so that we can teach people about saving and planning for their financial future. Most people have found out that Social Security won't do it, and just a plain company pension plan won't do it. You have to plan for yourself. Our system is based on people understanding savings and investment. What is their dream? What do they need to accomplish that? I hope the performance of our company will help the people that work in this company achieve their dreams.

I'm sure it will. Thank you, Mr. Weill.

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This page last revised on Sep 28, 2010 21:38 EST
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