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Tufts Grad Awarded "Medal Of Freedom"

Tufts Grad Awarded "Medal Of Freedom"In a White House ceremony, former Citicorp CEO Walter Wriston was honored by President Bush with the country’s highest civilian honor. Washington, DC.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [06.24.04] In a special ceremony in the East Room of the White House, President Bush honored Tufts graduate Walter Wriston - considered one of the most influential bankers of his time - with the nation's highest civilian honor. Joining the Pope, golf legend Arnold Palmer and 10 others honored this year, Wriston was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his celebrated career and legacy of innovation and leadership.

"The Medal of Freedom recognizes achievement in public service, in science and education, entertainment, the arts, athletics and other fields," Bush told the recipients and their invited guests. "As the citations will indicate, each of the men and women has led a life of accomplishment and distinction, and holds special respect among the people of the United States."

Wriston - who led Citicorp and Citigroup from 1967 to 1984 - was singled out by the President for the key role he played in launching the age of electronic banking.

"While rising to leadership, Walter Wriston made the industry a lot more interesting, ushering in an era of unprecedented innovation and improved service," Bush said. "He saw the trends of the future, and he started a few of his own - first among them, electronic banking."

During his tenure at Citicorp, Wriston helped pioneer the use of automatic-teller-machine cards and began building a global organization long before the word ''globalization'' was in vogue. He also was commitmented to recruiting women as managers. In the view of management guru Peter Drucker, this was perhaps Wriston's most significant accomplishment.

When he retired in 1984, Citibank had become the world's largest bank and its investment in computers topped $1.75 billion.

Credited by many - from Henry Kissinger to Lou Dobbs - as one of the first to realize the powerful effect that information technology would have on global economics, Wriston has remained an important figure in the industry long after he stepped down from Citicorp.

He has written several highly-praised books on the modern wired economy, and his insights - one of which is inscribed in the lobby of the New York Library of Science, Industry and Business - are frequently quoted in books, speeches and industry publications.

"Information about money has become almost as important as money itself," says Wriston, who graduated from Tufts' Fletcher School in 1942 and recently established an endowed chair in International Business Relations.

He has also been extremely vocal in support of industry reform following the recent wave of corporate scandals.

"I think it's ridiculous, the pay packages that are now coming to light. It's totally wrong," Wriston said in an interview with Meet The Press. "I think every CEO ought to be at risk every day for what he does. And if he has a bad business model or he has some character flaws, he should be shown the door. If everyone is at risk and CEO's don't have [lucrative contracts], a lot of these excesses would go away."

Last year he began circulating a white paper to help corporate America reform its ways. As London's Financial Times noted, it's an appropriate time for the "notoriously forthright" Wriston to return to the public stage.

During Wednesday's White House ceremony, President Bush agreed.

"We honor him today for his great foresight, his principled corporate leadership, and we thank him for all he has done to extend the opportunities of our free enterprise system."

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