Sunday, January 14, 2007

Taxonomy

Ya gotta love Carl Icahn.

The man knows how to turn a phrase, particularly in the presence of someone from the media, who eat up his bomb-throwing pronouncements like candy. Take this example, which was cited from a recent article in the neighborhood news rag for the Park Avenue set, Avenue magazine:
"The C.E.O. is the fraternity brother type who is great to have a drink with. He’s a survivor and maybe not all that smart, but he works his way up the ladder in the corporation. And if you’re a survivor, you never have someone beneath you who’s smarter than you. So you eventually work your way to C.E.O. You have someone a little dumber than you underneath, and eventually we’ll have morons running everything … which we’re getting closer to."

Morons. Wow.

Now, you can argue with Carl's premises, and you can smirk at the reductio ad absurdum of his argument, but you cannot deny that Carl does not seem to like or respect many CEOs. The interesting and somewhat surprising thing to me is that this is a pretty widespread attitude among the financial community, whether you are talking about investment bankers, private equity professionals, or hedge fund guys. Why is that?

Well, as with so many things, I think the answer goes back to high school. Unlike their suave, dashing, and debonair image in the media, cultivated with $5,000 suits and European grooming products, most of the Masters of the Universe now stalking Wall Street and its environs used to be . . . wait for it . . . Nerds. That's right: while the future CEOs of America were playing varsity football, dating the hot cheerleaders, and polishing the social and political skills they would need to run multinational corporations, the future financial leaders were doing extra credit homework problems and watching "Speed Racer" on TV. Trust me, I speak from (sad) experience. Now that the handmade shoe is on the other foot, as it were, and the popular media breathlessly hang on their every word, the financial guys are just getting their licks in.

For what it's worth, my experience tells me that the distribution of morons is pretty uniform across all socioeconomic groups, including investment bankers, PE guys, and hedgies. How do I know? Well, being a relatively smart and aggressive guy myself, I use the same definition for "moron" as Carl Icahn does: any idiot who does not agree with me.

© 2007 The Epicurean Dealmaker. All rights reserved.