Chief executive officers have much in common with heads of state. One is their general reluctance, sometimes outright refusal, to say sorry after making decisions that lead to disasters. Jerry Levin's belated apology last Monday for the ruinous merger between Time Warner and AOL 10 years ago is a case in point. Long after it became clear that the dotcom- bubble-driven merger was not working, the former Time Warner CEO continued to defend the US$164 billion deal. Investors and employees hurt by the merger could take little comfort from his latest contrition. It's not clear what led to his public admission on US television. Still, it is better than nothing. It comes at a time when bankers and financial engineers have much to apologise for over their role in causing the financial crisis. If more former financial titans are ready to accept responsibility and not wait 10 years for it, it may help clear the air and ease public rancour against them. Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, ahead of the curve as usual, has admitted a degree of collective guilt for the US financial industry over the crisis, though he has stopped short of apologising for his own firm's part in it. One problem is that it would certainly be a mistake to express remorse too soon. The outcome of a decision, good or bad, takes time to realise. For example, Bank of America's former CEO Kenneth Lewis was ousted partly for overpaying to buy Merrill Lynch. However, the blue-blooded brokerage has already shown great earning power. When the dust settles, the purchase may well be seen as contributing to shareholder value. The value of apology by corporate or political leaders varies from culture to culture. Japanese leaders, when caught red-handed, have no trouble bowing deeply before cameras. Such ready acts of contrition can lead to public cynicism. In the West, however, sorry is often the hardest word to say. In the end, expressions of remorse are perhaps less important than the willingness of leaders to recognise a mistake and take measures to correct it. Failure to do this, coupled with a pigheadedness to insist on being right, is the most pernicious of all.