Sunday, October 30, 2016

I'm hooked....on BILLIONS

Like you, I'm disgusted with the current presidential election.  Finding a good diversion from politics is hard.  Take television.  Very little TV is worth watching and that's why I was delighted to discover a SHOWTIME series called Billions
SHOWTIME image / Wikipedia

Ironically, I watched my first episodes while in-flight to a hedge fund conference attended by (far) smaller asset managers than the fictional character in this series -- based upon a billionaire hedge fund manager and a shrewd U.S. District Attorney.  Within a week, I devoured the entire twelve episodes from season one.  Happily, the show is coming back for a second season.

The two principal characters: U.S. Attorney, Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) and billionaire investor, Bobby Axelrod aka "Axe" (Damien Lewis), are spellbinding. An outstanding supporting cast includes...

Billions writers per Wikipedia
Jeffrey DeMunn (as Charles Rhoades Sr), David Costabile (as Mike Wagner), Maggie Siff (as Wendy Rhoades), Malin Akerman (as Lara Axelrod) and Glenn Fleshler (as Orrin Bach).

Due to the care and talent of the writers (see list at right >>) and a brilliant cast that brings their work to life, these characters -- like people in real life -- are multi-dimensional. No reasonable person could completely love or loathe any of them.  

While a certain amount of salaciousness is expected in a high stakes drama, some scenes in Billions are implausible or gratuitous.  Examples include Chuck Rhodes' reckless sadomasochistic sex scenes (some might argue that Eliot Spitzer's record with prostitutes is sufficient historical precedent) and Wendy Rhoades' willingness to slip into a bath -- naked with Axe -- to have a completely platonic business conversation.  Yes, that happens all the time.

These are minor quibbles.  I haven't been so excited about a television production in years. Watch the trailer by clicking here  >>>  or , if you are pressed for time, check out this short YouTube video....

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Are we all Keynesians now?

Regardless of what the Fed does, it attracts detractors from the Right, the Left, or simply from voices with an academic ax to grind.  These debates ensue among and between institutional investors, economists, politicians, journalists and business leaders. 

Now the Fed has received a social activist group at its annual Jackson Hole symposium to hear their views on monetary policy.  This week, a movement called “Fed Up” sponsored by The Center for Popular Democracy met with a number of Federal Reserve officials including Bill Dudley, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York

The Fed Up members get an “A” for inventiveness – these groups usually petition the legislative and executive branches of government that control spending and tax policy, but now one has successfully lobbied the The Federal Reserve -- within spitting distance.  To be fair, the group did have some trained economists in their midst, but did this group have any business at this symposium?

The Fed’s dual mandate is to influence inflation and employment levels for the benefit of the nation.  Everyone agrees we’ve had an anemic recovery since the Great Recession but a
 disturbing part of this story is the ongoing pattern at forums -- public or private -- that feature some kind of socioeconomic class protest (Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, etc) instead of reasoned debate about complex problems.

Economics and politics are inextricably linked yes, but Fed actions are logically debated on the basis of what’s good for the economy as a whole.  

Is the discipline of economics precise enough to determine whether tightening or loosening short term interest rates will produce near term benefit for any group?  And even if you believe so, should Fed forums become a town hall with listening sessions?  

Ultra low interest rates and massive bond buying by the Fed has propped up the stock market, but also hammered elderly people living on fixed income investments.  Should AARP have an advocacy group in Jackson Hole (presumably wearing different colored T-shirts) to push for monetary tightening? 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

The shiny penny syndrome

Freepik image

This post is about the folly of instant gratification and business development (BD).

I coined a term (pun intended) for a BD illness I call, "Shiny Penny Syndrome".  This malady which strikes young and old, often afflicts professionals delivering complex business services that typically require long sales cycles (of months or even years).  Symptoms include short attention spans, misplaced time allocation and indifference to a client prospect.

To understand this illness and why it can be costly, one must first accept these premises: the time professionals have for BD is finite and good BD takes time. What often subverts efficient use of BD time, is Shiny Penny Syndrome.

We're so eager, so driven, that all it takes is the simplest of distractions to catch our eye.  The promise of a "hot" lead at a prospect derails efforts at last month's hot lead and in the process, we compromise potential at prospects who've already met us.

Misplaced effort to grab the new shiny coin metastasizes into gross indifference to the original shiny coin which turns potential dollars...into definite pennies.  We want the hot, easy close. Who doesn't?

I'm not advocating a slow start to a new, time sensitive, opportunity. I'm saying that rather than following through and developing new client pursuits, professionals frequently skate to the next prospect, because the prior one didn't pan out as quickly as they'd like.  Mistake.

Professionals can inoculate themselves from Shiny Penny Syndrome by doing all they can to earn trust at a limited number of good prospects, instead of making a flurry of superficial efforts at a high volume of shiny coins.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

"We're all on a journey in this life"

Interesting people and teachable moments are often near us and the key is to remain open to them.  I'm more open some days than others, but at conference in Chicago some three years ago, I made an unlikely acquaintance whose words resonate with me this morning.

The gentleman in mind is an industrial psychologist who practices in the financial services space.  Before his clients extend lucrative offers to hire a C-level executive, the candidate needs to pass a psychological assessment.

So I plied this man, whom I'll call Mike, with questions to learn what he looks for and also who fails to receive his endorsement and why.  Mike told me a little about his trade at a technical level, but when he got to the part about who fails his assessments, I was thunderstruck by his answer.  

In short, an out-sized ego is the kiss of death for candidates seeking Dr. Mike's seal of approval.  He explained that an executive that pretends to have all the answers often has a high probability of sub-par performance at his clients' businesses.  To summarize his point, he said, 

"We're all on a journey in this life and those who don't understand that..." 

Mike's following words I can't cite verbatim, but essentially, he suggested that humility and intellectual openness are key attributes of senior executives with sustainable records of success at his clients.  Maybe his principle doesn't apply to drill sergeants, but his filter works for him and it makes sense to me. 
Inspired by Dr. Mike, it is with humble hat in hand I cite my incorrect 2015 Halloween projection that Sen. Rubio would become our GOP presidential nominee.  Did I know his campaign was over after he collapsed under pressure from Chris Christie?  No, but it was clearly downhill from there.  He'll try again and probably be stronger the next time he encounters smash mouth moments at a debate.

At present, I'm sticking with my dark-horse Halloween projection for the VP running mate -- Carly Fiorina -- if either Ted Cruz or John Kasich should capture the nomination.   

Either ticket would make a formidable team and one infinitely preferable to the blood-curdling prospect of a Clinton or -- good Lord -- Sanders presidency. 

By the way, I've joined the "Twitter-verse" @johnmaddente...