Morgan Stanley Chairman John Mack said he is disappointed that decisions coming from the Obama administration are being motivated by politics.
"I'm not here to bash the administration, but I'm really disappointed," Mack said Wednesday while speaking at public forum at Queens University of Charlotte hosted by Hugh McColl, a former chairman and chief executive of Bank of America.
"Every decision can't be a political decision. Whatever happened to doing what's right?" Mack asked.
He shared his concern about the sentiment coming from Washington and that the focus is too much on politics than on meaningful industry reform.
"We will get some changes," Mack said. "People are smart enough to know we cannot go forward with the system the way it is ... but it is a slow go."
On Jan. 1, Mack stepped down as chief executive of Morgan Stanley, making way for James Gorman to take the helm of the New York bank. Mack has retained his role as chairman.
In a wide-ranging discussion, Mack touched on regulators, the debate over Wall Street pay, the financial crisis, and international concerns, such as the woes of the Greek government.
Mack, who has not taken a bonus for the past three years, was critical of the industry's pay practices, which have raised the ire of Main Street in the aftermath of the financial crisis and taxpayer rescue.
"I still don't think the industry gets it," said Mack, who noted that efforts to reform pay have focused too much on structure — deferring compensation, paying in stock, clawbacks — and not enough on the amounts.
"If we don't do something, the government will do something" on pay, said Mack, adding that he suggested during a recent meeting with Obama that a panel of bank CEOs and regulators be established to talk about pay.
Obama in recent weeks has called for a crackdown on risky trading, proposing new rules that could change the way business is done on Wall Street. The rules, though, are a long way from becoming law and regulatory efforts have taken longer than many expected.
Mack said the idea that regulators do not know what they are doing is "just folly" and that change will come.
Mack said he was in Greece last week, as the southern European nation mulled a $6.8 billion bond offering to ease some of the country's financial woes.
He said the country's fiscal problems "spooked" currency markets, particularly trading in the euro and U.S. dollar.
But he downplayed the severity of Greece's problems, calling them no worse than Portugal, Spain or Ireland.
Instead, the worries of a Greek financial crisis, Mack said, highlight a schism between northern and southern European countries in how to cope with their budgetary problems in the wake of the global financial crisis.
Mack spoke Wednesday evening in a crowded Charlotte, N.C., auditorium, near his hometown of Mooresville, N.C.
Mack, a Duke University graduate, began his career at Morgan Stanley in 1972, working in the firm's bond department. He rose to chief operating officer before leaving to become co-CEO of Credit Suisse First Boston.
Mack rejoined Morgan Stanley in June 2005.
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