When William Salomon died, so did family finance

Bankers might not be quite as hated as they were back during financial crisis, but they’re still not universally popular with the public.

But here’s one who put customers first and valued loyalty above all else - rare these days in the fast-moving world of global finance. His name was William “Billy” Salomon and he died this week at the age of 100. He was also the second generation member of a family business - that might have something to do with his ethics.

William oversaw a finance house started by his father and two uncles, called Salomon Brothers, and turned it into one of Wall Street’s premier investment houses.

Yes, he was known for changing Salomon from a bond-trading house into an aggressive equity business that competed against the best on Wall Street. But he was also known for putting the customer first.

In an interview with Associated Press in the early 1990s he said: “In my time, the customer was God, and we would no more take advantage of him than we’d fly out the window. We always felt that if we did the right thing the profits would take care of themselves.” Many family businesses would be familiar with these concepts.

His integrity was backed up with a tribute shortly after his death from Michael Bloomberg, who worked at Salomon before setting up his information service.

“Billy valued ethics above all else, and he taught all of us who worked for him to always do right by our customers - even if it came at the expense of the firm,” said Bloomberg. “The only thing he valued more than loyalty to the firm was honesty to the customer.”

Salomon Brothers was eventually sold and became part of Citigroup, so the brand was merged with one of America’s biggest financial institutions. Many say it lost its values along the way. The world of finance needs more William Salomons - indeed, maybe, despite all of their complexities, it needs more family businesses running the show.