When a CEO shows up at a board meeting with his lawyer and demands “fairness” after bringing embarrassment upon the institution he is supposed to be leading, it is time for somebody to leave the room and not return. Usually, it is not the board.
Embattled World Bank CEO Paul D. Wolfowitz makes the mistake that too many CEOs make. He fails to understand that it’s not about what’s good for him. It’s about what’s good for the institution he heads. Mr. Wolfowitz and his lawyer, Robert S. Bennett, may try to do an elaborate tap dance around the board over the issues that brought them to this impasse. But the central point, as we have noted here previously, is that the credibility and respect essential to the sound functioning of the office of the World Bank’s chief is no longer there.
The greater danger in Mr. Wolfowitz’s staying is that it will almost surely compromise the Bank’s own governance reputation and make it apparent to the world that the board is merely a rubber stamp for the dictates of the U.S. administration. The Bank’s efforts to bring governance reform to developing countries will be terribly undermined if it becomes apparent that its own governance system is a sham.
Making accusations that the board is treating him shabbily, just days after being called upon to resign by dozens of former World Bank officials, only confirms that Mr. Wolfowitz does not grasp the nature of the relationships and the esteem that are necessary to carry on with the job. One by one, important constituencies are withdrawing their support, and with each unheeded demand for his resignation Mr. Wolfowitz appears a lesser and lesser figure. In this he has much in common with another Bush appointee, embattled attorney general Alberto Gonzales. Both these men give the impression of being smaller than life figures occupying the huge offices they hold. Larger men give up their posts before bringing disgrace upon themselves or their organizations. Smaller men cling to them like life rafts.
Great institutions like the World Bank cannot be headed by little men. Nor can they be governed by those who are unable or unwilling to stem the erosion in the stature of the body they are entrusted to protect. The Wolfowitz girlfriend ordeal must be ended. If Mr. Wolfowitz does not step aside —and soon— the board must do the job for him.