Friday, October 23, 2009

Business Odds & Ends

Quite a bit of flap has arisen in business circles over the administrations "pay czar" slapping 90% salary cuts on a number of executives at firms which requested or took government aid, e.g., GM, Citigroup, AIG, BofA.

If anything, this illustrates the point of this post back in April about a lack of boundaries between government and business. I wrote,

"In my opinion, as well as others, such as William McGurn of the Wall Street Journal and even liberal Nobel Economics Laureate Joseph Stiglitz, the bankruptcy option has been avoided far too much in the past twelve months.

Bear Stearns, Lehman, BofA, AIG and Citigroup, upon appealing to the federal government for assistance, should all have been referred to bankruptcy court or the FDIC for closure. GM and Chrysler, too, should be in Chapter 11.

Somehow, corporate executives have come to expect their government to play favorites, pick winners, and temporarily prop up failing companies, rather than admit their own mistakes and close up shop.

By failing to observe the boundaries of responsible corporate behavior, boards of directors and CEOs unwisely opened a Pandora's Box of problems by requesting government financial aid.

This left them open to having their operations and decisions overseen and scrutinized by political officials who have used the excuse of looking after taxpayer money in order to move our economy down the road of fascism.

At the same time, government officials, beginning with the Bush administration, and continuing into the current one, have unwisely consented to helping private corporations, rather than declining, and sending them to their fate in the financial markets or bankruptcy courts.

By failing to observe the clear line between private and public spheres of activity, our government officials have compromised our economic system and given into the temptation to begin manipulating companies for political purposes and pet political agendas."

Right now, the political agenda on display is liberal America's desire to limit executive compensation. And, frankly, the companies involved right now deserve this treatment.

They ran themselves into a condition worthy of bankruptcy court. They begged for government aid. Now, having availed themselves of taxpayer funding, they have no excuse for having compensation become a political weapon to be used against their employees.

But I don't think there is any room for such government intervention in the rest of business.

You don't see the administration suggesting that entertainment or sports figures have their compensation limited, do you?

On another topic, I saw a laughable little piece on CNBC the other day. The topic was women in business, featuring some female MD from Deutsche Bank's derivatives unit.

Hilariously, the woman, whose name I cannot recall, blathered on about how a woman can now take time out of her career to have children, return to the workforce, and still reap substantial corporate success.

Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, a CNBC co-anchor, laughed and retorted that the only truly successful executives of either gender of whom she knew basically slaved like dogs, worked unending hours for years, sacrificed their family lives in order to climb to the top of the executive ladder at an investment bank. The other CNBC on-air personnel bobbed their heads in agreement.

The Deutsche Bank woman protested that this was wrong, and here she was, an MD at DB, to prove them wrong.

Look, let's be honest. DB is no Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, or Blackstone. It's simply not a first-rank US investment bank or asset manager. DB is one of those second-rate-at-best, large European universal banks which bought a US bank, usually in distress. In DB's case, that would be the old, self-crippled Bankers Trust.

I don't think anyone equates rising to MD rank at DB with being a senior executive at Goldman, a first-rate private equity shop, or a hedge fund.

It's not clear just why CNBC even aired this segment. I guess they really wanted to focus on the notion that women can now rise to the top of an investment bank while happily and successfully juggling a family, too.

Unfortunately, I don't think women in senior management at truly first-rate investment banks, private equity groups or hedge funds would waste their time appearing on CNBC to crow about how much time they didn't work while rising to the top.

It seems to be very much a Groucho Marx sort of topic. Anyone foolish enough to self-identify as a successful female financial services exec who has it all probably either a) doesn't have it all, b) isn't that successful, or c) is about to have her career limited by appearing on CNBC to state that she has it all and is successful.

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