The Human Cost of WaMu’s (and Wall Street’s) Failure

Jason Pankow Culture, Jason Pankow

Apparently, we’re in some sort of financial crisis.  My wife does the bills, so I’m just catching up.

One of the big headlines, currently, is the government seizure and sale of Washington Mutual…theEmployees_with_boxes largest bank failure in history.  Here in Seattle, we are still wondering what the fallout from WaMu’s failure will be.  Of course, this has a huge affect on the US economy and Wall Street.  But, I wanted to take a moment to talk about what this could mean to the people of Washington Mutual and the people of Seattle.

I spent 2 years in the Recruiting department at WaMu.  In fact, it’s where I took my first steps into corporate recruiting.  Despite the bad (terrible, pathetic, often unethical) decisions made by some of the brass at WaMu (can you say bad appraisals and Golden Parachutes?), the company, on the ground, is made up of some great people, 4,800 of whom work in downtown Seattle, itself.  Add to that another 1,800 in Washington State, and suddenly, we don’t care so much about how awful the Mariners are (okay…I still care…stupid Mariners).

For the city of Seattle, this is a huge blow.  And the potential loss of jobs isn’t the only reason.

Washington Mutual had one of the best Employee Giving programs in the Northwest, possibly in the US.  Any contribution by an employee was matched by the company, up to $10,000.  On top of this, WaMu paid their employees to volunteer, and then turned around and donated money to the organization the employee volunteered with.

In 2006, Washington Mutual donated almost $50 million to charitable organizations across the country.  Due to falling profits, that number was down from $94 million the year before.  Washington State charities received $8.3 million of that.  Here at Microsoft, our Employee Giving Campaign leaders have already heard from local non-profits asking us to help out even more than we usually do because of the money that will not be seen after Washington Mutual’s downfall.

The people and politicians in the area are taking a “wait and see” approach.  JPMorgan hasn’t yet said what they will do with the former headquarters of what was the nations largest savings and loan, including the new WaMu Center, which still has that New Skyscraper smell.  Seattle economist, Dick Conway, says “every WaMu job lost will likely result in another 1.5 jobs lost in the area economy.”  This includes the Starbucks on the corner, the local restaurants and bars that regularly receive the patronage of WaMulians, downtown daycare providers, and many others.

WaMulians are troopers…and smart ones, too.  They’ll bounce back.  In fact, last week, one of my buddies who works over there, on Facebook, listed her status as, “Sad about WaMu, but excited to watch The Amazing Race!”

As for the rest of Seattle…we survived a fire, an earthquake, and Kenny G.  We can survive this.

But, I will miss the commercials.