Tag: business

The Problem with Positive Thinking

There’ s a quotation by Stan O’Neal that I’ve looked for occasionally and failed to find. John Cassidy found it for me (How Markets Fail, p. 274; original source is The New York Times). It was an internal memo from O’Neal describing the company’s second-quarter 2007 results (which were good, at least on paper). Here are some quotations from memo in the Times article:

“More than anything else, the quarter reflected the benefits of a simple but critical fact: we go about managing risk and market activity every day at this company. It’s what our clients pay us to do, and as you all know, we’re pretty good at it.”

“Over the last six months, we have worked successfully to position ourselves for a more difficult market for C.D.O.’s and been proactively executing market strategies to significantly reduce our risk exposure.”

Greg Zuckerman, in The Greatest Trade Ever, has this from O’Neal in 2005 (p. 173): “We’ve got the right people in place as well as good risk management and controls.” (No original source–the entire book has only forty-three end notes, at least in the pre-publication copy that Simon got.)

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The Problem at Moody’s

Kevin Hall of McClatchy has an article  about Moody’s that goes beyond the usual — giving AAA ratings to products “structured by cows” and taking money from the cows (actually, the “cows” comment was from S&P). He documents how Moody’s forced out executives who questioned the lax rating policies, replaced them with executives from the structured finance division, and filled its compliance division with people from that same division.

In this week’s column at The Hearing, we discuss this as an example of a common tension within businesses — between the revenue-generating side of the business and the people responsible for product quality. The problem is that in the short term, you can maximize revenues by cutting corners on quality, but in the long term, cutting those corners can come back to hurt you. Or it can hurt your customers. Or the whole economy, as it turns out. Unfortunately, however, there is no particular reason to believe that companies will resolve this tension in a way that is good for them in the long term, let alone the economy.

By James Kwak