Alan Weinberger, the founder, chairman, and CEO of The ASCII Group called on his friend Ken Feinberg to close The ASCII Success Summit – Rhode Island held October 13 — 14 at the Hyatt Regency Newport, and Feinberg didn’t disappoint.
An attorney specializing in mediation and alternative dispute resolution, Feinberg was appointed Special Master of the U.S. government's September 11th Victim Compensation Fund and served as the Special Master for TARP Executive Compensation. Additionally, Feinberg served as the government-appointed administrator of the BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster Victim Compensation Fund; was appointed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to administer the One Fund — the victim assistance fund established in the wake of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings; and was retained by General Motors to assist in their recall response and by Volkswagen to oversee their U.S. compensation of VW diesel owners affected by the Volkswagen emissions scandal.
“It’s a little removed from what you do,” Feinberg jokingly told Summit attendees, “but Alan sneaks me in at the end of the day when you tired.” While it’s true Feinberg didn’t offer the same type of help other presenters did, he did open eyes in regards as what type of person you need to be to run a better business.
Feinberg spent much of his talk sharing memories of his role as Special Master in the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund. “I awarded $7.1 billion to 5,300 eligible people — those physically injured or the families of victims who died,” said Feinberg. “The program worked as Congress intended and is a perfect example of sound public policy that should never be done again. The very idea you’re going to set up a private fund with public money is a bad idea.”
Feinberg pointed out no other disaster received the same treatment as 9/11, something made clear to him in numerous emails he received from victims of the Oklahoma City bombing, the original World Trade Center attack, and even the family of a women who died a hero saving children who would have drowned.
Not only was the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund unique, Feinberg’s approach had to be as well. “People ask me, ‘When you did the 9/11 program, did your law degree help?’ Better a philosophy or divinity degree because of all the emotion you’re dealing with,” Feinberg said, illustrating his point by sharing stories of fights amongst family members over compensation for victims of the Boston Marathon bombings and the attack at The Pulse in Orlando, FL.
“Not only did families fight over compensation,” said Feinberg, “victims themselves were often challenging to deal with. I told one of the Boston Marathon victims he was getting a $1,250,000 check and told me, ‘Keep it, I want my leg back.’” Feinberg learned the less you say at a time like this, the better. “There’s not much you can say to people,” he said, adding, “It’s not hard to design a compensation program, and it’s not hard awarding money.
“What’s hard is the emotion. You may think you’re ready but you’d better brace yourself for what you’re going to hear. What you learn in what I do is to shut up. The less you say the better.”
The BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster Victim Compensation Fund was a different situation for Feinberg. “In 16 months I received 1,200,000 claims from 50 states – 21 from Rhode Island,” recalled Feinberg. “I didn’t know the oil got to Rhode Island. Claims were turned in from 35 foreign countries.” All told, 65 percent of the claims were deemed ineligible.”
With all the emotion and stress associated with the job, Feinberg is often asked why he takes on such agonizing assignments? Feinberg answers that question with one of his own: “What are you going to say, no? The President asks and you say yes — you want to give back.” Still, despite that sense of responsibility to serve the President, the job has taken a toll. “You become very fatalistic when you do what I do. I don’t plan more than two weeks in advance,” said Feinberg.
Despite the powerful emotions associated with the work he does, Feinberg is able to find levity in doing it. “I remember when President Bush asked me to do the 9/11 fund,” he recalls. “I said I would but pointed out I’m the former chief of staff to Senator Ted Kennedy. Bush said, ‘That’s fine: If the program fails, Kennedy’s guy screwed it up; if it works — I’m a genius.”
The ASCII Success Summit— Rhode Island is being held October 13 — 14 at the Hyatt Regency Newport. It is the final of nine solution provider-focused conferences ASCII hosted in North America in 2016. For more information on ASCII, go to www.BSMinfo.com/go/InsideASCII.