Category Archives: Corporate governance

Row Over New IMF Chief Intensifies (Updated)

We wrote a couple of days ago about the young versus old economy struggle over who will be the next leader of the IMF in the wake of Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s resignation. Ever since its inception, the IMF had had a European in charge. Christine Lagarde, the finance minister of France, is the favorite, and the US and Europe have enough votes to determine the outcome.

Representatives of several emerging economies voiced their objections, pointing to a comment made by Jean-Claude Junker, president of the Euro group, in 2007: “The next managing director will certainly not be a European”.

The Financial Times reports that the unhappiness has gone beyond complaints in the media to an open rift.

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Battle Over IMF Chief: Proxy War Over Power of Banks?

There’s a fight afoot over who will be the next head of the IMF. Yours truly is not making odds on this one, save that Christine Lagarde is getting far and away the most attention in the media and more generally, a big push is on to have a European take the reins. The logic is that with the eurozone mess far and away the biggest priority, the new IMF chief needs to have credibility with the major actors, and that argues for a European choice.

The contrary camp is the “the countries formerly known as emerging” who point out that it is their turn to have an IMF head from one of their countries. The IMF has been led by a European since its inception. Even though votes have been rejiggered to give younger economies more weight, the mature ones still are in control of the outcome.

But what is intriguing are the arguments that follow, which reveal what the real stakes are.

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Rajat Gupta and McKinsey’s Dented Reputation

A new story by Suzanna Andrews for BusinessWeek on Rajat Gupta, the former McKinsey managing director alleged to have fed tips to convicted insider trader Raj Rajaratnam, is mainly about Rajat, but it does have a damning tidbit about McKinsey:

McKinsey had a culture of superiority, says one longtime client, who declined to be identified, adding that consultants at the firm really seemed to think they were better than anyone else in the business world. This CEO is still shocked recalling an incident in the late 1980s, when a McKinsey team offered to provide him with a road map of what his competitors were doing. When asked how they could produce such information, he was told that McKinsey also worked with his competitors, but he could trust McKinsey to know what was confidential information and what was to be kept private. He says arrogance permeated the firm.

Felix Salmon deems this revelation to be of what a “presumably-representative McKinsey team would do in the course of normal business.” Having been at the firm at around that time (the mid 1980s), the reality was more complicated, but in the end points to the same troubling conclusion: a lack of adequate (one might say any) meaningful controls on client work.

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On Short-Termism and the Institutionalization of Rentier Capitalism

Andrew Haldane and Richard Davies of the Bank of England have released a very useful new paper on short-termism in the investment arena. They contend that this problem real and getting worse. This may at first blush seem to be mere official confirmation of most people’s gut instinct. However, the authors take the critical step of developing some estimates of the severity of the phenomenon, since past efforts to do so are surprisingly scarce.

A short-term perspective is tantamount to applying an overly high discount rate to an investment project or similarly, requiring an excessively rapid payback. In corporate capital budgeting settings, the distortions are pronounced:

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Bill Black: My Class, right or wrong – the Powell Memorandum’s 40th Anniversary

Yves here. Black’s post discusses a turning point that is not as well known as it ought to be. Thanks to reader John M for bring this post to my attention.

By Bill Black, an Associate Professor of Economics and Law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He is a white-collar criminologist, a former senior financial regulator, and the author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One. Cross posted from New Economic Perspectives

August 23, 2011 will bring the 40th anniversary of one of the most successful efforts to transform America. Forty years ago the most influential representatives of our largest corporations despaired. They saw themselves on the losing side of history. They did not, however, give in to that despair, but rather sought advice from the man they viewed as their best and brightest about how to reverse their losses. That man advanced a comprehensive, sophisticated strategy, but it was also a strategy that embraced a consistent tactic – attack the critics and valorize corporations!

He issued a clarion call for corporations to mobilize their economic power to further their economic interests by ensuring that corporations dominated every influential and powerful American institution. Lewis Powell’s call was answered by the CEOs who funded the creation of Cato, Heritage, and hundreds of other movement centers.

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Your Humble Blogger Asked Larry Summers a Question He Did Not Like

A funny thing happened at the INET conference. First, I got to ask Larry Summers a question because Martin Wolf, who was moderating the session, is a good sport. Normally, at this sort of event, only At Least Semi Big Names get to interact with Big Names. Yours truly is a minimum of a rank or two below At Least Semi Big Names.

You will find our question at 55:40.

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David Apgar: What Was So Unpredictable about Deepwater Horizon?

By David Apgar, the Director of ApgarPartners LLC, a new business that applies assumption-based metrics to the performance evaluation problems of development organizations, individual corporate executives, and emerging-markets investors, and author of Risk Intelligence (Harvard Business School Press 2006) and Relevance: Hitting Your Goals by Knowing What Matters (Jossey-Bass 2008). He blogs at WhatMatters.

It’s tempting to look for a little consolation on the anniversary of the oil spill from BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig in the idea that our worst industrial accidents are unpredictable and not the result of negligence. The only trouble is that the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico was predictable.

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Jim Boyce: Tax Havens or Financial Sinkholes?

By James K. Boyce, who teaches economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is co-author, with Léonce Ndikumana, of Africa’s Odious Debts: How Foreign Loans and Capital Flight Bled a Continent, to be published this year by Zed Books.

Tax havens have got a lot of press lately. In Britain, the UK Uncut movement has mounted demonstrations across the country against tax dodging by large corporations and wealthy individuals – making the connection between profits parked abroad and deficits and budget cuts at home.

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Conflicted JP Morgan Next up for a Reputation Hit

Louise Story at the NYT has this: In the summer of 2007, as the first tremors of the coming financial crisis were being felt on Wall Street, top executives of JPMorgan Chase were raising red flags about a troubled investment vehicle called Sigma, which was based in London. But the bank chose not to move […]

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Buzz Potamkin: Still Getting Away With Murder Manslaughter

By Buzz Potamkin, former studio executive and producer, in the biz for 40+ years, now a consultant

Today is the 100th Anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.

Readers of this blog will notice a certain resemblance between Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, proprietors of the Triangle Waist Company, and today’s financial industry titans: serial fires (at least 4 previously, apparently at times with excess inventory, all conveniently insured), disregard for risk, blatant violation of governmental regulations and codes, use of corporate veils, aggressive legal representation, friendly “powers that be,” and continued unaltered conduct after the fact. Neither of them ever went to jail: both were beneficiaries of Judge Thomas C.T. Crain’s overly limiting jury charge in their trial for manslaughter in the death of 24-year old Margaret Schwartz, and both were cleared in the death of 23-year old Jacob Klein by Judge Samuel Seabury’s instructions to that jury to find for the defendants. (If you, humble reader, notice a certain pattern in judges named Crain and Seabury presiding in the cases of victims named Schwartz and Klein, let me not dissuade you.)

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Microsoft, General Electric on List of World’s Most Ethical Companies

Ethisphere just published its annual list of the most ethical companies in the world. I am surprised to see Microsoft and General Electric included among the 110 singled out. GE is the only member of the “diversified industries” group; the other companies in the “computer software” cohort are Adobe, Salesforce.com, Symantec, and Teradata.

Some industries, such as arms merchants, Big Pharma, and US health insurers, are apparently so compromised as to have no representatives.

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Japan Earthquake Shows Business Reengineering Relies on Bogus Thinking Similar to Financial Engineering

Gillan Tett’s latest offering in the Financial Times discusses the woes that have befallen various major companies that find themselves exposed as a result of having extended supply chains that have Japan-based manufacturing as an important part. She correctly depicts this as a symptom of a much larger problem, of having pushed the idea of wringing out production costs too far. But perhaps due to space constraints, she fails to draw out the most important conclusion: just as with financial engineering, management incentives favored ignoring risk, and the resulting blow ups were predictable.

Tett tells us the Japan-related disruptions are merely the most visible symptom of a widespread pathology:

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Why Adulterous Failed Banker Sir Fred Goodwin’s Covered-Up Workplace Affair is a Matter of Public Interest

We will probably see in the next few days whether the newspapers manage to get the super-injunction by Sir Fred Goodwin, the CEO of failed bank RBS, lifted. Since the facts of the matter, or “speculation” if you will, are now all over the Internet, keeping the super-injunction in place seems pretty pointless, as the Telegraph confirms in Sunday’s Links.

So what’s the real point of this circus? A demonstration of the superiority of the Web over the tabloid press as a mechanism for transmitting salacious tittle-tattle? A grandstanding MP working parliamentary privilege to get a bit of banker-bashing publicity? Naked Capitalism getting into the regulatory arbitrage game and thumbing its nose at the UK court order from the relative safety of its NYC-hosted web server? Or perhaps it is blogger Guido Fawkes sarcastically pointing out that the law is now officially an ass:

So there was this ****** bloke who worked closely with another ****** colleague, they apparently began an adulterous affair not long after the ****ing crisis of 2008. He went to Court to stop it getting out that he had been banging her. Because he is the most notorious ****** of his generation he also banned references to his profession lest he be identified. Guido would be in contempt of Court if he told you his name or profession…

Indeed, the law should not be mocked; but who’s mocking it? The UK certainly needs major overhauls of its privacy (and libel) laws, rather than the current abusive shambles, but in this particular case, one might contend that it’s Sir Fred who’s doing the mocking.

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McKinsey, the Insider Trading Scandal, and the Problems With Consulting

I’m not easily shocked these days, but I have to confess I gasped out loud when I read that the former managing director of McKinsey, and until recently board member of Goldman and Procter & Gamble, Rajat Gupta, had been charged by the SEC for insider trading. Why would someone with one of the most blue chip reputations in Corporate America, who has clearly done very well financially, risk it all to make a bit more? Not only is the downside considerable, but it also isn’t as if these moves would have made a meaningful difference in his lifestyle. He already had status others would kill for. And passing profitable tips to Raj Rajaratnam was never going to be a ticket to Hedgistan levels of wealth.

But the next interesting bit was to watch the reaction in terms of what this scandal meant for McKinsey. This event was a Rorschach tests on the firm, often with a bit of schadenfreude at another elite name being shown to have feet of clay. And even though I worked for McKinsey over 20 years ago and think the firm has a lot to answer for, some of the charges are a bit barmy.

So let’s dispatch with the uninformed inflammatory stuff first and get to the real dirt.

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Matt Stoller: Angelo Mozilo, Tea Partier?

By Matt Stoller, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. His Twitter feed is http://www.twitter.com/matthewstoller Mozilo’s emails expose a political philosophy borrowed from Ronald Reagan. I was combing through the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission resource materials, and I found an interesting email from former Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo to his senior executives. It was written in […]

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