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A Terrible Mindset For Leaders

by Miki Saxon

John Thain was lauded as a brilliant leader for years. but he fascinates me as an example of the MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy™) that is so ingrained and prevalent in a large portion of executives, especially in the financial sector.

Thain became Merrill Lynch’s CEO December 1, 2007. One of his first acts in 2008 was to renovate his office to the tune of $1.2 million. The redecoration included “$87,000 for area rugs, $35,115 for a commode on legs, $25,000 for a pedestal table and $68,000 for a 19th-Century credenza.”

Fired one year later Thain said, “They were a mistake in the light of the world we live in today,” Thain said in a memo to top executives dated yesterday. “I will therefore reimburse the company for all of the costs incurred.”

Search as I might I can’t think of any past world or circumstances that would make those purchases using corporate money acceptable. Ignored, but not acceptable.

Another example of Wall Street MAP comes from the wife of a securities executive who explained how an after dinner game called “credit card lottery” worked, “Each man would take a credit card out of his wallet and toss it onto the table. Then someone — usually their server — would be asked to pick a card and bellow the owner’s name so everyone in the restaurant could hear. The “winner” would pay the bill, which often tallied $1,000 or more.”

There are many more examples, but can’t you hear the echoes from the playground of “My dad can whoop your dad” and as they got older the locker room “Mine’s bigger than yours.”

The problem is they never stopped.

Lay and Skilling; Bernard Ebbers; Dennis Kowalski; Richard Fuld; Bernard Maydoff; to name only a few.

One or two could be put down to insecurity, but this is more like an epidemic of arrested development.

But it’s Thain’s words “in the light of the world we live in today” that are truly appalling.

They seem to mean that nothing has changed. The excess was OK before the meltdown and will be OK again when the economy is back on its feet.

This is just a minor setback—we are still entitled.

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Image credit: flickr

6 Responses to “A Terrible Mindset For Leaders”
  1. Dan ErwinNo Gravatar Says:

    Mr. Thain’s excesses are more than flagrant. Over the years I’ve been in CEO and exec offices of numerous Fortune 100 and 200 firms. They were pleasing, comfortable, large, private bath, occasional painting of significance, but nothing that would ever lead me to consider them flagrant. These were companies with a long history of solid profit and contributions to their community.

  2. Miki SaxonNo Gravatar Says:

    So true, Dan. But it seems to me that this kind of excess is happening more and more often. Maybe not exactly, but there seems to be far less restraint out there and that the definition of what is acceptable keeps enlarging.

    What do you think?

  3. Dan ErwinNo Gravatar Says:

    I think that excess goes in cycles. American history is filled with flagrant excess on occasion, then more restrained. There are two issues that are different today that result in much more knowledge of what would to a significant degree in the past, be hidden. Media is one of the issues. Remember that the purpose of media is to make money for its sponsors. Thus gaining attention is normally done in terms of calling attention to and creating conflict and frenzy. Second, the global finance system, uniting all financial systems, provides opportunities that were never dreamt of in the past. Thus, the current debacle.

    Surprisingly, there was an absolutely superb article in the Wall Street Journal, by Joe Queenan: In Praise of Transgressions. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123456728548886075.html?mod=rss_US_News

    Queenan’s article strikes me as exceptionally balanced.

  4. Miki SaxonNo Gravatar Says:

    Interesting article. Although I find the media annoying at times, I think it’s a positive that the residents in the halls of power have a far more difficult time, if at all, of stopping the media from shining light into dark holes.

    That said, I find the ratti (glitteratti, digiratti, literatti, et.) addiction of the average person to be beyond understanding. I find my reaction for much of what passes for news to be “who cares.”

    Too bad that the media won’t focus more on the busineratti. Perhaps if We the Public had the same fascination for, and rabid conversations about, them the current debacle might at least have been minimized. But we prefer to leave it up to ‘other’ to monitor and restrain them.

  5. MAPping Company Success Says:

    […] ‘names’ demands outsize compensation/stock options/guaranteed bonus/etc. in order to validate their […]

  6. MAPping Company Success Says:

    […] it is that sense of entitlement, exemplified so well by John Thain, that got us into this […]

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