Just when I thought I had seen it all, I read that AIG has actually removed its name from its headquarters building on Wall Street. I have been wracking my brain for the last 24 hours, trying to think of anything that compares. I can’t.
There doesn’t seem to be a precedent. Certainly not to the extent of buses filled with indignant and self-righteous citizens who peer at the A.I.G executive homes in the estate sections of Fairfield, Westport and the like. It doesn’t matter that 99% of the fury is misplaced and directed at the stoic survivors who still work there and who had no part in the massive trading losses.
All that seems to matter is that AIG clearly believes that its name, which was on the equivalent of life support, must be expunged from the public consciousness. They have hired Lippincott to come up with a fresh name. That is one tough assignment.
Think back to other corporate scandals. Enron drew universal hatred and scorn, too, but it went out of business and its name and award winning logo went with it. Barings, another financial concern pulled down by a rogue trader, was sold, then cut up and resold in little pieces. (Baring Asset Management still exists, as a subsidiary of MassMutual, but that’s all that is left.) Drexel Burnham Lambert hung on for a while, post-Milken, but also died. WorldCom, luckily, had a former corporate name–MCI–in its hip pocket. But when it rebranded, it had a lot of baggage to overcome:
The company’s switch to the MCI name in its advertising and promotion that there is no mention whatsoever of WorldCom. Normally, a “new and improved” campaign makes at least passing mention to the company’s former identity.
Sounds suspiciously like what senior executives about AIG must be saying about their own identity. It must be a truly miserable place to be right now, as was made clear in the Op-Ed letter in today’s New York Times, Dear A.I.G., I Quit!
As I have said before, naming should not be undertaken lightly. In this case, I agree with management’s decision. It would be interesting to know what is their budget for re-branding, though.
At the end of the day, I hope that “NewCo” spends even more to inspire their people and reassure them of the rectitude and viability of the company. They deserve it.