Friday, May 4, 2012

On Stewardship

John Taft, head of RBC Wealth Management located in Minneapolis, has written a very timely book titled Stewardship.  I say timely because our culture is in sore need of re-identifying its values.  And I add appropriately due to the fact that the word stewardship has been largely missing from our vocabulary in recent years.  When is the last time we heard a leader espouse values of stewardship?

There is an embracing quality in the word stewardship that includes responsibility, integrity, quality, and community - all in one word.  In essence, it defines the type of leadership reflected in the Greatest Generation.  Earlier Presidents like Washington, Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt set the standard politically.

John Taft with the legacy of President William Howard Taft and Senator Robert A. Taft is perfectly positioned to comment on stewardship.  Further, his predecessors at RBC Wealth Management (Dain Rouscher) were all known examples of superb stewards starting with Wheelock Whitney and continuing through Irv Weiser and Dick McFarland.

While the book contains an analysis of the financial crash of 2008, it is really about the qualities of leadership that our nation must focus on if we are to remain the global leader.  Toward that end, he pushes aside all the partisan shallowness that surrounds the ongoing debate and focuses instead on the core principles.  They are, he observes, “the only solid ground under our feet when everything is, or seems to be unstable.”

From an investment perspective, he looks back to another Minnesota giant, Harry Piper, Jr., for guidance;  “serving our clients is our basic purpose.  Service is the chief contributor to our growth and profitability.”  How refreshing.  How simple.

Compare that sentiment to that expressed by Goldman Sachs executives at the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in April, 2010.  Stripping aside all the contradictory and self-serving testimony, the simple reality was that Goldman Sachs stood firmly on all sides of a deal even when it was totally contrary to the wellbeing of a client.  In essence, the goal was simple:  make money and make it any way you can.

Tragically, this philosophy of short-term greed is not confined to Goldman Sachs or the financial services industry.  It has become contagious affecting virtually all institutions.

But the real loss here is that the good news is being squeezed out by the bad.  Those leaders who practice stewardship are overshadowed by the exploiters.

I love Tad Piper’s comment, “my dad always thought of this (financial management) as a noble profession, a profession in which we were privileged to serve the world in which we were admired.  He felt we had a higher calling to help individuals manage their wealth, corporations raise capital, governments build roads and schools.”

In using the word “noble”, Tad Piper is highlighting the ultimate human goal.  We all want to excel and believe that what we do contributes to the wellbeing of others.  The good butcher is performing a valued service just as the quality teacher or construction worker.

It is imperative that we do not allow the noise of greed or self-service to drown out the positive contributions of the many because they are the people who build a community.

John Taft is such a builder.  His leadership during the financial meltdown was extraordinary.  He stood by his principles of service to his customers and did so in an open and truthful way.  The result was a sensible path to recovery and stability.

Fortunately, his leadership gained national attention and he rose to become a major player in crafting legislation affecting the financial industry.  In 2011, he was selected chairman of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association.

Since John Taft properly calls us all to stewardship, perhaps it is entirely fitting that I to call him to active political service.  He is a traditional Republican with all the skills necessary to make a splendid Governor or Senator.  The truth is he has it all: intelligence, experience, an engaging personality, and a genuine dedication to the wellbeing of others.


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