Did Bill Winters have a tin ear to media advice?

It’s hard to say what most damaging about the Financial Times interview in which Standard Chartered CEO Bill Winters complained about “immature investors” questioning the size of his company pension. 

First it was on the front page of the FT, drawing nearly 300 comments by lunchtime – not many in his favour. Second, he sounded out of touch by lambasting the 40% of investors who had objected to his £474,000 pension cash allowance. Third, his labelling of investors as immature gave them the perfect excuse to pile back into the debate by offering journalists a few choice quotes for a follow up article the next day, also on the front page.  

Investors seem to have been a bit more media savvy – notably one accused Winters of having a ‘tin ear’ to their concerns, which seems to have been a clever, headline-grabbing term to insert into an off the record briefing.  

We assume Winters did not go into the interview with the overriding objective of sparking a public row with some of the bank’s biggest shareholders. So we speculate he missed out on two crucial elements of preparation:   

First, rehearsing his response to the pension contribution question, to ensure it was measured and relatable to people who don’t earn C suite salaries. And importantly, think of the wording of the question and where it might come in the interview. Skilled journalists know to drop the toughest question in the silkiest language and at just the right moment.  

Second, have a far more impactful core message to frame the conversation and return to if the conversation veers off track. The type of message that is sufficiently thought-provoking and newsworthy to merit a shot at a headline. Despite all the coverage, we are none the wiser as to what that core message was. Or if he had one at all.