Heads of the country's financial services firms met today with President Obama to discuss the financial meltdown and the road to recovery.
Many of the companies that these business leaders represent have been hard hit by the economic crisis - which they helped bring about through risky investments - and they have received billions of dollars in bailout funds from the federal government.
This largess has not always gone over well with the American taxpayer: The meeting came in the wake of an outpouring of populist anger over the $165 million in bonuses that American International Group, Inc. (AIG) gave to employees after receiving government aid.
With calls for greater regulation of bailout funds echoing through the halls of Congress and harsh statements of condemnation over executive abuses coming from the White House in recent days, many of the 15 CEOs from the nation's largest banks who traveled to Washington, DC today must have been bracing for the worst.
Yet the business executives emerged from the 90-minute plus meeting relatively optimistic and pledging to work with the administration to fix the economy.
"The president emphasized that Wall Street needs Main Street and Main Street needs Wall Street," White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters.
During the session, the group touched on restarting lending, cleaning up toxic assets, and the administration's housing plan, according to Gibbs. Gibbs also said that the president and the bankers discussed issues related to executive compensation and bailout funds, but did not go into further detail about what was discussed.
Bank heads expressed optimism that a middle ground could be reached on the issue of compensation structures.
Below is a sampling of some CEO reactions:
"We're all in this together," John Stumpf, the CEO of Wells Fargo & Co., told reporters outside the White House after meeting with Obama today, Bloomberg reports. "We're trying to do the right thing for America."
"We all have a common goal for building momentum for a recovery," Citigroup head Vikram S. Pandit said, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Richard Davis, chief executive of Bancorp, exuded optimism, BBC news reports. Davis predicted that this was "beginning of a turn [in the economy], we can start to see a bottom."
"…the president thinks that we should be very cognizant of the needs and desires and anger around the country on compensation," JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon told CNBC. "Look, I mean, I should be clear. A lot of mistakes were made around compensation. I think a lot of people in the room would agree with me, that we know mistakes were made. A lot of companies have good standards. At JP Morgan Chase, we never had parachutes…but some went too far."
"I got the impression both from him and some of the things going on behind the scenes, that cooler heads are going to prevail and nothing will be done that punitive," Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis told CNBC regarding the recently passed House bill calling for a 90 percent retroactive tax on executive bonuses to bailout recipients.