Thursday, May 14, 2009

Former 'Friend of the Family' bites the dust in Madison Park

They pulled the sign down this afternoon from the Madison Park WaMu branch (4020 E. Madison Street), dramatically and quite literally signaling the end of an era.  

Most of us can remember the time when Washington Mutual was a well respected local institution that featured a kindly-uncle spokesman and the rodeo grandmas in its ads. Many of us learned about saving money by participating in the bank’s school savings program as children. Those were the days long before Kerry Killinger and his team destroyed WaMu’s culture from inside and then rode the bank into the ground. In a recent story, The New York Times had a fabulous 2003 quote from Killinger which is a classic in prognostication:

We hope to do to this industry what Wal-Mart did to theirs, Starbucks did to theirs, Costco did to theirs and Loews-Home Depot did to their industry. And I think if we’ve done our job, five years from now you’re not going to call us a bank.

Well, we certainly won’t be calling WaMu a bank much longer. The new Chase sign is scheduled to go up within the next two weeks, I am told. Meanwhile, thousands of WaMu employees are out of jobs and on the streets, tens of thousands of WaMu shareholders have had their holdings rendered valueless, and millions of WaMu customers now await the next chapter.

The workers taking down the sign, who have been doing the same thing at other WaMu branches in Seattle this week, asked me why people are so upset seeing the signs come down. “It’s almost as if they are blaming us,” one of them told me. “I don’t get it.” I told him that it’s always sad to see a local icon replaced with some big behemoth from out of town, especially one from New York City. “Now I get it,” he said. “Money always talks.”

Something like that.

[The New York Times did an excellent job last December of chronicling the corrosive effects of Killinger and his team on the bank and their ultimate destruction of Washington Mutual. For those interested in reading the full story: Saying Yes, WaMu Built an Empire on Shaky Loans.]

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