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.
Image credit: flickr