Résumé Put Hall of Fame

By James Kwak

Before 2006, people used to talk about the Greenspan put: the idea that, should the going get rough in the markets, Chairman Al would bail everybody out. But there’s something even better than having the Federal Reserve watching your back. It’s the résumé put.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Vikram Pandit, former CEO of Citigroup, is starting a new firm called TGG which will . . . well, it’s not entirely clear. In one email, they claim “a novel approach to address the challenges that large complex organizations face in compliance, fraud, corruption, and culture and reputation.” (That’s the standard marketing tactic of describing what benefits you will provide without mentioning what you actually do.) Now, Pandit certainly has experience in a large, complex organization with compliance, fraud, corruption, culture, and reputation problems. Citigroup checks pretty much every box. But is it experience you would want to pay for?

 Pandit hardly covered himself in glory as CEO of Citigroup. Basically, he took over a bank that was already heading into an iceberg, rammed it head-on into the iceberg, and then called in the Coast Guard to rescue him. He doesn’t deserve all the blame for the fact that Citi was the shakiest of the big four commercial banks in 2008, but he certainly doesn’t deserve the credit for keeping it afloat: that goes to one Timothy Geithner.

Pandit got into Citi when the bank bought the hedge fund he co-founded, Old Lane, for $800 million. Old Lane earned 3 percent in 2007, lost money in 2008, and was shut down that very summer. Hardly a performance that would merit a CEO position, but there it is. Pandit did have a successful career at Morgan Stanley before starting Old Lane, but that just seems like more evidence for the theory that working at Morgan Stanley (or Goldman Sachs) makes you seem smarter than you actually are.

So why would anyone hire Pandit to do anything—let alone “use insights into human behavior, economics and so-called big data . . . to help large, complex companies analyze employee behavior, management decision-making, business models and strategy”? (Presumably, having made something like $160 million on the sale of Old Lane, he isn’t going to work for peanuts.) To be clear, no one has hired him yet. But in general, if you become CEO of a big company, you’re pretty much guaranteed lucrative employment for as long as you want it, regardless of your performance. This is the résumé put: you have downside protection because you can always go and get another job.

The other big question is why Steven Levitt and Daniel Kahneman would want to have anything to do with Pandit. It probably isn’t the money—Levitt must be worth a gazillion dollars with the Freakonomics franchise, and I doubt Kahneman is hurting. And if they really want to bring behavioral economics and instrumental variables to big corporations, they don’t need a mediocre washout as CEO of America’s laughingstock bank.

At the end of the day, it all probably comes down to our culture’s fascination with money. Make enough of it, and people will always assume you must have deserved it one way or another. And you will always get another shot (see Spears, Britney).

11 responses to “Résumé Put Hall of Fame

  1. At the end of the day it’s just the opposite, money is used as a unit of time, and you have none.

  2. Robert Springer

    Well, I’m glad you didn’t try to sugarcoat your view about TGG or the responsible parties. It is of course possible that their novel approach is to tell the truth and require everyone to do what is right Unlikely, but it would certainly be novel, even revolutionary.

  3. I was never a big fan of “Economics of Contempt” blog. I thought occasionally he stretched the truth and certainly was very subjective in some of his defenses of Treasury, derivatives products, and people he seemed to be just a tad too cozy with. Nonetheless, even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in a long while. He hit the nail on the head with Vikram Bandit on this one:

    http://economicsofcontempt.blogspot.com/2010/08/hank-paulsons-foresight-and-vikram.html

    Another good one here from Stacy-Marie Ishmael (who at one time I was a fan of but have ceased to be). She did get THIS right though:

    http://ftalphaville.ft.com/2010/03/05/166976/dear-vikram-pandit/

  4. If you get blocked on the Stacy-Marie link, you can register free. But you can shortcut that by doing a google search on the article title and then going in through the google link.

  5. Anonymouse: what a wonderfully puzzling response! I wonder if you shouldn’t send it to the StackExchange philolosphy newsletter; surely it would engender all sorts of fascinating speculation on what it could possibly mean. Keep it up!

  6. I can’t resist this last “cheap shot”. I was debating whether to get Kahneman’s book, as I ALREADY knew Levitt’s books are unadulterated CRAP. But seeing Kahneman is willing to tie/connect himself to Vikram Bandit, Kahneman has redflagged himself as a waste of money.

  7. Thank you for your response. Yes, interpretations can lead to many conclusions, but only one can right. Eventually the wrong ones are punished by the degree of being wrong. Once I stop amusing you, write back and i’ll keep it up.

    And to boot, i’ll give you permission to send it to your pals to discuss, then send the answer(s) in a circle and see if you get the same answer back.

  8. http://rt.com/news/five-eyes-online-manipulation-deception-564/

    How about this tax payer funded project? Need to cut more food stamps…

  9. In our system, the mighty do not fall. But what a beautifully entertaining and well written job James does of trying to saw their legs off.

  10. I thought that Kahneman’s latest, big book (fast and slow? can’t remember the title) was fairly good. It seemed to cover a lot of stuff that most of us know already, but we know it already because of Daniel Kahneman (and a few other people like him), so he does deserve credit. It did go on too long, but overall I thought it was worth reading.

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