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 economists now?

The Fed always inspires debates among informed stakeholders like institutional investors, economists, politicians, seasoned journalists and industry 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 Federal Reserve officials including Bill Dudley, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York

The Fed Up team gets an A plus 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 the activist group belong at this forum?

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, but the pattern of protests (Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, etc.) instead of reasoned debate about complex problems, is disturbing.

Yes, economics and politics are inextricably linked, but Fed actions are logically debated on the long view of what’s good for the economy as a whole.  

The Fed's annual meeting shouldn't become a town hall with listening sessions like one conducted by your local Congressman at city hall.  

This group didn't cause disruption at Jackson Hole, but Fed officials' willingness to receive them in the first place, is odd.  If Fed "independence" is genuine, should the most powerful central bank in the world receive all comers?  

Ultra low interest rates and massive bond buying by the Fed have juiced the stock market, but also hammered elderly people living on fixed income investments.  Therefore, should retirees have an advocacy group granted equal time at Jackson Hole, to push for monetary tightening?   

Saturday, May 21, 2016

The shiny penny syndrome (updated, 12.28.2017)

Freepik image


This post is about business development (BD).

There's a BD ailment in the professional services markets (and other markets I suppose) which I call, "Shiny Penny Syndrome".  

Symptoms include short attention spans, misplaced time allocation and indifference to existing prospects.  The time professionals have for BD is finite and good BD takes time. What often subverts efficient use of their time, is Shiny Penny Syndrome.  It works like this...

We're all so eager to attain revenue goals, that all it takes is a simple distraction to catch our eye (i.e. a shiny penny).  The promise of a hot lead at a new prospect often retards efforts at existing prospects by shifting valuable attention and resources away from them.  Frequently, our requirements to drop everything and chase an unqualified prospect seeking a time consuming proposal with a quick turnaround...are all but nonexistent.  In my experience, this habit is a chronic time killer and contributing cause of under-developed existing opportunities.      

It's impossible to avoid that shiny coin 100% of the time, but when we pursue them habitually, we're trading higher probability conversions in our existing pipeline, for long shots.  (This presumes of course that the BD time otherwise dedicated to shiny pennies, is applied to better qualified pursuits).  

I'm not advocating slow starts to reasonably-qualified, time sensitive, opportunities. I'm suggesting there's an unacknowledged price to pay when professionals repeatedly turn their energies toward grossly-unqualified prospects seeking fast fee quotations, project budgets, proposals, conference calls, etc.  It all takes time, the time adds up and time is money.

Professionals can't totally inoculate themselves from Shiny Penny Syndrome -- it requires discipline to walk away from pursuits that appear quickly and often dramatically.  Emotions can run high on both sides of a decision to pursue or not pursue the new "opportunity".  Nobody wants to appear as though they lack aggressiveness.  So how can we reduce our exposure to unhealthy pursuits of shiny pennies?  

One method is to calculate your ROI for these pursuits (and share among market-facing peers).  Total the estimated fees coming from wins of these pursuits over a twelve month period or longer (a dollar value easy to compile because data points will be sparse).  Next, attribute a reasonable dollar value for the sum total of all the time and resources expended on shiny penny pursuits, over the same time period.  Next, divide the estimated fee value, by the total time and resource value.  That's your ROI for these moonshots.

Another method, and a more preemptive one, is adoption of an opportunity assessment standard.  Even a few qualification questions consistently considered, are better than nothing.  Use questions to assess unknown, proposal-anxious prospects and arrive at an informed team consensus on how (or whether) to proceed with a given pursuit.

I close with some sample questions below.*  
  • Will direct contact with stakeholders and decision-makers occur before proposal development?  
  • How many competing firms will the prospect allow into this RFP process?  
  • What market reputation do we possess for this specific type of work?  
  • Do any C-level executives or board members at the prospect, already know us?  
  • Does the RFP process more closely resemble a commodity auction run by procurement managers, or a thoughtful vetting of individual firms by key stakeholders? 
  • Why were we invited to participate?
  • Why is the prospect going out to bid?
  • Is there enough time to develop a sufficient understanding of the prospect's business?
  • Can our experience and existing relationships produce unique value and insights, or merely rates and dates in a proposal?
  • To what extent can geographic proximity or similar reference-able clients, weigh in our favor or against us?
*If you can't obtain answers to your questions, or several answers don't inspire confidence, consider a decision to politely request more evaluation time or decline the pursuit or RFP invitation (and turn your attention to better qualified opportunities).

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.

Carly_Fiorina_by_Gage_Skidmore_3
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...