Richard Parsons’s Portfolio

According to Bloomberg, Richard Parsons – the chair of Citigroup since February – now owns stock in the company worth, at yesterday’s close, about $350,000 (96,298 shares at $3.69).  For such a well-established and highly remunerated corporate executive, we can reasonably refer to such an amount as “chump change.”  In May, Forbes estimated Mr. Parsons’ net worth as a little under $100m.

I have no particular complaint about Mr. Parsons; he is an experienced banker, with the very best political connections.  But I would point out that while Wall Street likes to talk big about people having “skin in the game,” when it comes to putting their personal net worth on the line, many finance executives prefer a different kind of arrangement.  Specifically, they are attracted to compensation structures in which they have a lot of upside but very little downside.

If you had such a deal, how would this affect your relative interest in risk-taking and careful supervision of subordinates?

David Brooks famously argued, a few months ago, that the problem with our banking system circa 2008 was not anything about incentives and political power, but rather stupidity.  Probably he was right that this mattered in some degree for the housing bubble. 

But what should we think about an industry that is carefully and deliberately constructing the exact same arrangements again?  Won’t this lead us inexorably towards a Truly Great Bubble?  Stupidity involving smart people in well-heeled organizations must surely be about incentives for those at the top.

Just because these arrangements involve and are being implemented by a member of President Obama’s Transition Economic Advisory Board, does that make them OK – or even remotely sensible?

And where exactly do you see the impact of the adminstration’s vaunted regulatory reforms for the financial sector here?

If your response is “well, that’s the system and there’s nothing you can do about,” you have a point.  But if that’s your response and you work in the White House, we all have a very big problem.

By Simon Johnson

42 responses to “Richard Parsons’s Portfolio

  1. There’s been some interesting activity on Parsons’s Wikipedia page in the last few months.

    And there’s been a curious lack of press about his friend/confidante Vivi Nevo (about whom was spread the rumour that he was the single largest individual shareholder in TimeWarner.)

    Some questions:

    1) Peter Boone is listed as one of the authors of this blog. Does he author any of the posts? What’s happening over at the Centre for Economic Performance? Any suggestions from over there?

    2) The stated mission of this blog: “The Baseline Scenario is dedicated to explaining some of the key issues in the global economy and developing concrete policy proposals.” Have you formulated any specific policy proposals so far?

    3) Does the title of this blog involve any wordplay? Why did you choose to name it Baseline Scenario (BS)?

    4) Do you happen to know Martin Sorrell or Philip Lader? Stephen Salyer or Walter Massey?

  2. I’m sorry, but people who accept multi-million dollar salaries have opted out of the “stupid” defense. Doesn’t wash!

    Why does Goldman Sachs get to tap into federal lines of credit and loan guarantees as a bank holding company but continue its same risky business model (and brag about it?) Why do they get to continue to use a VaR risk model – and risk up to $245 million per day? Here’s how Gary Cohn, Goldman’s president characterized their “risk appetite.”

    “’Our risk appetite continues to grow year on year, quarter on quarter, as our balance sheet and liquidity continue to grow,’” Mr. Cohn said.”


    Why is Goldman saying that they were perfectly healthy all along – and their AIG bets were totally hedged, yet accept the largest cache from the AIG bailout?

    And since TBTF was big enough when there were a bunch of investment banks, what does TBTF mean now when there are just a few left? How are we protecting ourselves from ever having to bailout banks again?

    Seems like we’re not “hedged” at all against another systemic failure, but our government has an open pledge to prop the banks up forever… and in fact, our bank holding companies now get to rake in the profit that comes with being an investment bank knowing full well that they will never be accountable for failures.

  3. I agree fully with anne’s TBTF comments. Unless we are willing to keep banks from getting TBTF in the first place, we have painted ourselves into a smaller corner each time the next crisis comes along. Looks like we’ve blown the “opportunity” of this latest crisis.

  4. “Won’t this lead us inexorably towards a Truly Great Bubble?”

    Just to point out: we have already blown a new bubble. Stocks prices and valuations of financial institutions are clearly back in bubble territory and for the exact same reason that we had a bubble in housing: the Fed has created them.
    The Fed has a jones; we all pay the price.

  5. On its face it’s obvious if a top executive doesn’t place a large amount of his net worth in his company’s stock, he’s saying he has no confidence in the soundness of the comapny and/or his own management abilities.

    It’s the capitalist equivalent of hypocrisy.

  6. Iam indeed truly impresssed at the level of intellectual power displayed by Simon and the many contributors to the threads. Permit me to observe that this, however, does not seem to be moving us forward to a desirable outcome!

    This eminent group can switch from erudite criticism and process criticism, to goal definition of success and then identify the optimal procedures needed to move us forward.

    We need to agree what exactly are the outcomes to be delivered. We need to produce and refine a REAL American achievement to put in gear. History (Hitler, Stalin et al) prove TBTF is a nonsense. Re-creation of the financial scenario which led us into the mess but now with larger and fewer macro players seems an unlikely recipe for success but I do not suggest the required business model. I am sure Statsguy and others are far better equipped to step up to the plate.

    Many years ago I heard a new unit commander gain immediate respect as he told men his objective was to do the job and bring us all home. The goal was totally identified with and agreed by all. Why?

    There is no true historical model for success which despised those less fortunately endowed with brainpower or other ability.

    Could we therefor please switch to an outcomes directed plan of endeavor and move to a ‘win the war for everyone’ plane essential if we are to win through for what is still a great even blessed country and watched by the rest of the world.

    So let us start with a first draft and then progressively refine it. We can mobilise a tremendous intellectual powerhouse via this net.

    Anybody else with me?

  7. I have a question. As the market was heading down, I bought some shares in Bank of New York. I knew the bank and was confident that they would have minimal exposure to the toxic assets that were bringing to big boys down. I am sitting here waiting for the reward of the market for their responsible behavior while watching all the big boys who received TARP money clean up. IS there something strange here?

  8. LarryKudlowIsGiddy

    The sad truth about Parson’s is that he is an ignorant puppet, not a brilliant CEO. He gets “placed”, like Geo. Bush was placed, to do the bidding of his handlers. Remember this (as a judge of character and intellect).

    Richard ‘Dick’ Parsons is fallible, after all! The (married) former Time Warner boss and most popular black man in corporate America after Vernon Jordan has a (formerly) secret love child, with a much younger model:

    Parsons’ lovemistress is MacDella Cooper (pictured), a model who also runs a charitable foundation dedicated to helping the poor children of Liberia. Cooper is 32; Parson is 61. He’s been married for 30 years, and he has three kids with his wife.

    Cooper gave birth last August, according to a source, who said Parsons will support the child and has set up a trust fund for her education.

    Neither Cooper nor Parsons would comment to George Rush, who broke the story. But this will obviously take a bit of sheen off of Parsons’ relatively spotless reputation for probity. (Or make every other major CEO identify with him more, who knows?).

    Parsons’ name was kicked around after Obama’s election as a possible member of the “celebrity cabinet.” Parsons said he wasn’t interested at the time. Maybe he didn’t want to go through the background checks.

  9. If the leaders of our economy were up front with their goals, which have little to do with the good of the general population, there would be a riot. Apart from frothy expressions of denial in the guise of dribble down economics, the guys on Wall Street have little knowledge or understanding of how the other 95% live. If the unit commander had told his men, you are going out there to die for the financial interests of the few, and my job is to protect those interests and not your lives, clarity would have had to opposite effect.

  10. Old Lady in Red

    Oh dear! This is NOT good!

    Pretty soon, someone will be saying that the Oklahoma
    City Murah bombing was a gov’t sting operation, the
    BATF against the FBI!

    This is NOT good!

  11. I was wondering when we’d start paying attention again to the incentive structures in finance, and in the corporate world in general. There was a lot of talk of this for a while, and people seemed to be in general agreement about what some of the problems were, but as far as I can tell, nothing has really been about it.

    And I don’t think that compensation issues are peripheral. They are central to problem of excessive risk-taking, along with constructing better systems of corporate governance, including reforming shareholders powers vis-a-vis boards of directors. No serious reform can be accomplished without properly addressing these issues.

    And having a compensation czar addressing them on a case by case basis is not going to get that done.

  12. Oh yeah
    while everything runs smoothly they claim to be the supersmart and therefore worth unheard of sums, once things go wrong they are only too glad to admit to superhuman amounts of stupidity

    somehow the story reminds me of all the downfallen dictators and their helpers – in those quarters that narrative is very very popular
    – so maybe I am wrong and they are right, after all what is an outsider’s OPINION against an insider’s KNOWLEDGE

  13. History (Hitler, Stalin et al) prove TBTF is a nonsense.

    yes but history also tells us what a long time it took the forces for the good to get into gear

    – because the outcome was so good we tend to forget about all the wobbling and maneuvering in the run-up and even after the fighting had started for good. William L. Shirer has a door-stopper on it from which I learned that there were a lot more missed chances than the miserable agreements Mr. Chamberlain took home with him

    Churchill said “we fight them on the beaches …” only in June 1940, 9 months into the war

    And Stalin isn’t a good example, he did his job so “well” that his successors could last for a long time (remember he died in 1953, the SU broke apart in 1989, 36 years no time span at all looked at it through the eyes of history but for the people who had to live with it half a life-time.

    of course it would be nice if there would be a clear course of action to see, Mr. Johnson seems to have something specific in mind but there also seems to be a lot of legitimate objection to it – I keep watching and hoping

  14. “I have no particular complaint about Mr. Parsons; he is an experienced banker, with the very best political connections. But I would point out that while Wall Street likes to talk big about people having “skin in the game,” when it comes to putting their personal net worth on the line, many finance executives prefer a different kind of arrangement. Specifically, they are attracted to compensation structures in which they have a lot of upside but very little downside.”

    I would mention that in his last assignment(TW), Mr. Parsons borrowed $9 billion, then hung the tab on the Time Warner Cable division, which was promptly spun out. The cash became available as a dividend payout,
    permanently screwing Time Warner Cable customers who now must negotiate for services with a drowning company.

  15. Has there been any change to the incentive structure in finance? At some point the government will have to address the too big to fail/moral hazard dilemma. After all, the government has just committed the biggest bailout in the history of the world. Mostly ever failing institution was deemed to pose systemic risk. Now, government-led consolidation in the financial industry has compounded the “too big to fail” problems.

  16. Compensation is only part of the problem. Restricting parasitic money siphons in general (like “creative” finance), especially how efficiently these TBTF parasites can masticate %’s of GDP, will self-limit compensation IMO.

  17. Lavrenti Beria

    Swine of this kind aren’t the least concerned with the effects of their behavior on other people, the economy, the nation or the world. A certain sociopathology lurks, concealed, beneath the outward facade. The social ease, the right schools, the right church, if they even have one, are simply manipulable environments for these folks. And, like the Mafia, they are at least one degree removed from the lice in government “service” that they corrupt though intermediaries on K Steet.

    It seems to me that the most noble project of the coming decade will be to see that these scum receive a peoples’ justice, one madeled on the Nuremberg Tribunals. When one surveys the effects of their self-service on broad areas of cities like Cleveland or Detroit, one easily makes the transition from simple excess to crimes against humanity.

  18. Oh Lavrenti forever hopeful

    most of those convicted at Nuremberg who were not executed were released real real early on. Do not get confused because half demented Hess was kept in so long. As it is told this was due to the fact that the Allies needed the Germans on their side in the unfolding controversy with the Russions and those same Germans had convinced themselves that a lot of those convicted had only done their “duty” – it is an ugly story and always has been one and always will be one

  19. Well Lloyd Blankfein had some interesting ideas on compensation – but unfortunately, they seem to be merely ideas, not something he’s eager to implement, seeing as GS has set aside $11 bil for bonuses this year. (

    He thinks bonuses based on long term performance would be appropriate – an incentive program to be implemented sometime in a distant future, I guess, after the bonuses are paid out to reward the short term success the GS peeps have seen since the crash of 2008, less than one year ago….

    Here’s a NY Times story on the revival of the “guaranteed bonus” the banks want to pay out to their players – a reward “unhinged” from performance:

    The more things change… the more they stay the same, right?

  20. Stupid is as stupid does—running all the way to the bank.

    All you have to do is look at insider trading activity since about 1985. CEOs and board members RARELY invest their own money in stock in the company. It jumps out at you on the sheets whenever they do. It’s almost always in the form of salary or bonus that they decided at one of their meetings where everyone at the board gets a huge slice of pie no matter what the results were. It’s not just the banking industry either.

    And you know what??? As long as idiots keep watching CNBC and “Squawk Box”, these guys will continue pulling down their pants and taking a dump on the small investor’s face.

  21. Whoops, I’m so stupid, I just made $29 million this year. Oopps, I did it again, another $50 million. Whatever shall I do? I can’t go on making these stupid mistakes.

  22. Hey James, thanks for the courtesy to a former loyal viewer of your site–really appreciate that.

  23. May I suggest that any solution MUST exclude the “government”.

    Because the Fed & Congress & the Administrations of GWB & BHO created the circumstances for the financial plutocracy to rob us blind & cripple our economy & cost millions of Americans their jobs. They created the circumstances in return for billions of dollars in campaign contributions to keep Bernanke, Obama, Geithner, Summers, Frank, et al in power so they could create the circumstances, …………………………… infinitum.

    The only solution is the market – us. The government created the circumstances for the financial plutocrats to make all the stupid investments & divert our capital from productive uses to toxic assets. But, they did it with OUR money. If we can’t take our money away from them we ain’t going to fix the problem. Everything else is an exercise in futility – just like it has been for lo these many years.

    I know “our” money includes foreign investors, companies & governments but as long as the big banks have access to our money essentially for free to use as they see fit the problem won’t get fixed.

    Maybe one our financial geniuses can figure out some exotic strategy like short selling or I don’t know, to take our money away from them, even if it means a crash. But, a humongous crash is the ultimate outcome anyway.

  24. Economics shorn of politics is not science but only religion. There is no solution to the problems endlessly debated here which fails to address both the institutional structure and the wealth structure of the country. All of our major institutions (large corporations, legislative bodies, courts, agencies and, of course, the Presidency) are operated for the benefit of a tiny minority of citizens, perhaps as few as one tenth of one percent, which owns as much as thirty percent of the Country’s wealth. No one is permitted to discuss wealth in America; instead the focus is always upon income, and anybody who manages to corral two or three hundred thousand in a year is tagged as ‘rich’ and lumped in the same boat with Buffet and Gates and the CEO stars, movie stars, egregiously overpaid ballplayers, etc. Understandably, this makes those struggling to somehow maintain a Bud Cleaver lifestyle reluctant to embrace any change in the institutional arrangements (derangements).

    You cannot change anything important without destroying the power of a plutocratic class to preserve its own dominance. A capital levy of ninety percent on those with a net worth above one hundred million, and a steeply progressive franchise tax upon corporate capital (stiff enough to produce divestiture of corporate subsidiary empires) are the only measures I can think of which might produce substantive economic change. All those clamoring for competitive capitalism ought to favor such actions, but most of the talk about competition comes from those who really want competition only by workers against one another. There is a persistent myth that giant monopolistic corporations create JOBS, but anyone can see plainly that mergers destroy jobs, and outsourcing destroys jobs, and advancing technology destroys jobs, and most of the jobs which manage to be created by ‘progress’ are the minimum wage variety and the temporary variety and the government make work variety, with the result that anyone who manages to keep his own job becomes a reactionary force suspicious of anything which might rock his particular boat. Organized labor, at the same time, has too large a rent seeking component (and too large a gangster component) in those areas of the economy where it remains entrenched.

    Of course, every historic attack upon wealth has ended in complete disaster. Somebody has to be in charge, and Hayek is plainly right in his explanation of why the very worst people always become in charge. What this means, at least to me, is that we will continue to rearrange the Titanic deck chairs until global warming consigns us humans to the trash bin of history.

    Does anybody think he knows how long this bubble in the stock market is going to last? Is it too late to buy Goldman Sachs? JP Morgan Chase? Intel? Dow Chemical?

  25. I know nothing about Mr. Parsons, but owning stock in one’s own company is tricky for a CEO. Basically, if he should sell, would not that always be viewed as a sign of imminent problems? If he bought, it would surely encourage more buying, no? And if he bought once but then wasn’t buying regularly, couldn’t that also suggest that he wants to sell but daren’t? And wouldn’t there be concerns if the price fell, he bought, and then it recovered that it was engineered to create profit? A compensation package based on the stock price is one thing, but actual ownership of stock seems something else entirely.

  26. message to all the doom-sayers
    just found news that America is still top
    – no I am not joking it may be minor or even silly for a money-expert but as long as kids prefer to read (translated) stuff from the US there is hope that the hegemon will stay one at least till I am thru with life
    – look at the lists – amazing, really amazing,rendertext=9345460.html

  27. I actually don’t advocate a crash.

  28. I note at the top of this thread a set of words.

    ‘What happened to the global economy and what we can do about it’

    I read plenty of stuff which seems to loosely relate to ‘what happened’.

    When do we get to the ‘what we can do about it’?

    I believe solutions can be found but comments unfocussed are unfortunately just noise. If we don’t start today putting the fix together, then we are irrelevant and the TBTF et al crowd will continue with their unchallenged business model.

    Will it be action today or manana?

    You folk are all extremely clever, so how about some organised focussed thoughts about ‘what we can do about it’?

    I recall a pithy saying, there three kinds of people:
    1. People who make things happen
    2. People who watch things happen
    3. People who wonder what happened

  29. The money belongs to the banks, not to us.

  30. Nowadays, the categories have been further refined into:

    4.) people who pay others to make things happen;
    5.) people who exploit what happens in the financial markets;
    6.) people who deny that something that happened actually happened;
    7.) people who pretend not to have seen what happened;
    8.) people who advance a set of talking points regardless of what happened;
    9.) people who spin what happened into something else; and
    10.) people who dispute that anything can happen;

  31. You would be amazed at the numbers of people who have learned English from watching American cartoons.

  32. Thanks for the update Eugene.

    Now which categories would you suggest best characterise current postings on this thread?

  33. But who did it belong to before it belonged to the banks? Who & where did the banks get the money from?

  34. Well that seems a little sleazy.

    In an attempt to answer some of my own questions above (ehem), here’s a paper by Professor Lord Layard who’s in charge of “Wellbeing” at the Centre for Economic Performance. (It is reasonable to think that general societal wellbeing should be one of our stated goals, no?). What’s a little troubling, is that this paper dates back to 2003. We’ve made no progress on wellbeing for 6 years at the Centre??

    Professor Layard concludes “Bully for Bentham”

  35. I’m also very concerned that the incentives haven’t really changed, or the Wall Street culture, for that matter.

    My consolation fantasy is that Obama doesn’t want to rock the boat with Wall Street; he has to wait until we’re out of the woods with the recession, and until he’s re-elected to a second term. Then he lets loose Rahm Emanuel(I thought he was the strongman – why haven’t we heard his name for months?) and Larry Summers (no wrath like that of a convert!) and they PUT THE HAMMER DOWN on Wall Street. New sheriff in town. Numerous “retirements” among the upper echelon of the Street.

  36. notabanker your long post above is the number one issue in this story and in these comments. What are we going to do about the real problem?

    I study double-entry book-keeping; I have for many years. I study it because I learned it young in life, over 50 years ago. I have followed software applications in detail ever since I bought a software book-keeping application in 1979 to run my building business. The software could not do the job correctly.

    This lead me to follow the development of book-keeping as coded by software developers ever since. By 1983 I knew we would have a major melt-down, but I did not know when it would come. I know today that the potential for a next melt-down is firmly in place, and far, far more dangerous for all the reasons the above posters are aware.

    I took my study of book-keeping to the point of writing a software application modeled on a system used at GE in the 1950s. Nobody in the world is interested in such a book-keeping application.

    Now consider an exercise for Simon, James and friends by me asking some questions and see if anyone here knows the answers. If you don’t, you may discover a reason to focus on double-entry book-keeping as a method of truly fixing today’s mess.

    First, ask every accountant and CFO that you know to define the difference between a debit and a credit. If they say “left side right side.” the don’t have a clue as to what double-entry book-keeping is or does.

    Next ask them if they can explain why in Pacioli’s documentation of double-entry book-keeping in 1494 the ledger columns are named Debtor and Creditor. Then ask why during the Industrial revolution the ledger columns were renamed Assets and Liability. What changed in the book-keeping framework of rules? Surely as professionals they know the history of their craft.

    Next ask why in most of today’s applications the ledger columns are labeled debits and credits.

    Finally, ask what is different about a debtor versus an asset and a creditor versus a liability.

    Then, of course, one would want to know how it is that the present generation of book-keepers (so called) get off labeling the columns debits and credits. How do they compare to debtor creditor and Assets Liability?

    The short story here is that software developers who took control of double-entry book-keeping code 40-50 years ago do not have a clue how the 650 year old double-entry language works.

    Now let me add that many, many companies keep a legitimate set of books simply because the person doing the book-keeping uses their intuition and personal common-sense integrity. But for those who wish to cheat, the field is wide open for them to cheat.

    The banking system that is the source of the comments above is as out of control as out of control can get.

    My answer to notabanker is, let’s get together and understand the language that has been the trusted solution of honest commercial trade for 660 years, with the exception of the banking industry for the past 40 years or so.

    You cannot regulate what you don’t understand. Book-keeping is a legitimate control language designed to insure that all parties to a contract are made whole by the completion of each contract between the parties in trade.

    Finally, may I add, that there is no substitute language for double-entry book-keeping. It is the de facto language of commercial trade, world-wide. That is because it is the language of social science and of thermodynamics. There is no other solutions. And software driven book-keeping ought to run circles around every other application in its history. Instead, its evolution has gone backwards.

    So let’s see how many of your accounting friends can come up with common sense answers to the questions above.

  37. Capital Munch


    Please explain to your readers why you think Tim Geithner should be Obama’s pick to replace Bernanke at the Fed. You wrote this last week. It doesn’t gibe with anything else you write. I still almost suspect it was an imposter or hacker who wrote that post.

    Please explain.

  38. I second the motion.

  39. Geithner’s mendacity disqualifies him for any position of trust.

  40. actually no, actually I think it’s a wonderful way to get your brain to open a new space

    I just kept listening to AFN while driving to work (2×15 min a day) – after a while the jumble became words then intelligible then enjoyable and then I found Karl Haas (hope he is spelt that way) who gave me a lead into the world of classical music
    one of the most popular guys after 1960 was actually the weatherman a speaker of native German with a heavy English accent – Siss is Werner Lamb from the Rhein-Main-Air-Base …

    and unfortunately all the cartoons our kids get to READ are translated, all movies on TV and in cinemas except for a few in big cities have been dubbed (the Fins whose kids are best at reading skills run movies on TV with subtitles. I guess that saves a lot of teachers a lot of work) The list just made me happy because it seems to indicate that there are important things which America still does better than anybody else.

    – I hope our German kids make use of the English track on DVDs but on a visit to a German blog where they write in English I found that even though their English is impeccable, quite better than mine, it reads kind of synthetic as if they would run everything through grammar checks – like they would agree to what I have heard so often from people who spent a lot of their work day in English “where I have a choice I prefer to read a translation”
    – stuff you have learned by picking it up without acquiring a certificate or having the approval stamp of a teacher is considered to be kind of dubious, unreal – we are Germany and we have a reputation to defend ;-)

  41. LSE-link doesn’t work but nevertheless

    happiness was most likely achieved quite soon after 2003 due to this no doubt brilliant and effective program but it turned out that after a while people got bored with being constantly happy so in order to make them real real happy again some misery had to introduced, thereby also helping belief in the possibility of overall well-being via “Nudge”
    it’s like night and day – viewed against the darkness of the night the sun seems to shine brighter …

  42. Then ask why during the Industrial revolution the ledger columns were renamed Assets and Liability.

    Dan, that remark is quite a tease – is there a book of the history suitable for the lay-woman of the hedonistic reader kind?

    Independently from you I noticed probably somewhere during the 90s that the sharp divide between the balance sheet (Bilanz) and cost control (Gewinn- und Verlustrechnung) I grew up with wasn’t general knowledge any longer.

    and as an aside – somewhere during the 90s the government agency where I keep my savings changed it’s name from “Bundesschuldenverwaltung” (federal debt administration) to “Bundeswertpapierverwaltung” (federal value paper administration). Today it is named “Bundesfinanzverwaltung” (federal finance administration) but I think they had still another name in between – of course they still sell the same Bundesobligationen which to my mind still represent money I lend to the state against interest.