McKinsey Clients Shrugged at Scandals, Ignored Greed

McKinsey & Co. is the global fix-it firm of choice, whether you’re a company looking for an outsider to justify laying off thousands of employees or a government looking to get its managerial act together. A new book by Duff McDonald, a contributing editor at Fortune and The New York Observer, provides a good history of the firm but can’t seem to decide whether McKinsey is a valuable advisor or a waste of money.

I reviewed “The Firm: The Story of McKinsey and Its Secret Influence on American Business,” for Bloomberg Muse today. You can read it here.

When markets come undone from crisis fraud, regulators investigate something else

The public was pretty peeved about the financial crisis in 2008, and regulators felt the pressure to produce a few scalps in response. So what did the regulators do? They investigated something that had nothing to do with the crisis.

I reviewed Charles Gasparino’s new book “Circle of Friends: The Massive Federal Crackdown on Insider Trading — And Why the Markets Always Work Against the Little Guy” for Bloomberg Muse this week.

Gasparino tells the story of the all-out war on insider trading that began in 2008, and he questions the regulators’ priorities in pursuing inside traders when there were people who’d just about brought down the economy roaming free.

The book has some problems, but Gasparino is right that our regulators are chasing all the wrong people. Here’s the review.

Amaranth hit death spiral as sycophants, fools cavorted

The Greenwich, Connecticut hedge fund Amaranth Advisors LLC collapsed in September 2006 after losing more than $6 billion in the natural-gas futures market. I reviewed the new book about the debacle, “Hedge Hogs: The Cowboy Traders Behind Wall Street’s Largest Hedge Fund Disaster,” for Bloomberg Muse today. You can read it here.

Don’t Skewer Sheryl Sandberg

There’s a lot of work to be done between here and equality for women. Rich women in good jobs have one set of problems and poor women have another. Women with children pile on a whole new set of challenges. And women most anywhere can tell you there’s still discrimination that needs to be fixed in the workplace.

So why do critics expect that Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer at Facebook, would be able to solve every problem that women face in one book? I review Sandberg’s “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will To Lead” for Bloomberg Muse today. You can read it here.

AIG’s Greenberg Thumbs Nose at Taxpayers

The man who made the insurance company AIG into an industry giant has written a book — The AIG Story — and if there’s one thing we learn from Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, it’s that Hank admires Hank.

The book, co-written with George Washington University law professor Lawrence Cunningham, describes Greenberg as “innovative” and “independent” and “pioneering.” I reviewed it for Bloomberg Muse today:

If you’re among the U.S. taxpayers who watched in horror as $182 billion of your money made its way to the collapsing insurance giant American International Group Inc. (AIG) during the financial crisis, it might come as a surprise to learn that your forced munificence didn’t make much of a difference. In his new book, “The AIG Story,” former chief executive Maurice “Hank” Greenberg offers his take on what kept the company alive: “It was saved only by the loyalty and tenacity of its valiant workforce,” he says.

You can read my full review here. But the main thing I came away with when I put  ”The AIG Story” down was what a disappointment it is when powerful people with inside access to world events miss an opportunity to pass on insights to the rest of us.

Surely, after a high-flying career befriending heads of state and moving AIG from an insurance runt to a world-wide behemoth, a man of 87 would have constructive insights about the near-collapse of the global economy. And, with a little luck, maybe even a bit of introspection about lessons he’s learned? Instead, we get 328 pages of finger-pointing and self- congratulation.

So there you have it. A wasted opportunity. But do take a look at the list of people willing to praise the book on the back cover, and consider adding them to the list of authors you needn’t follow. Amazon.com publishes the “praise” here.

 

Memo to former employees:
Don’t mess with Goldman Sachs

Goldman Sachs’ most famous opinion writer did what no Goldman employee is supposed to do: He talked, very publicly, about his experience at the firm.

Greg Smith’s March 14 New York Times op-ed “Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs,” generated 3 million page views within 24 hours. The issues he brought up about how business is done at Goldman hit a chord with the public.

Now he’s written a book “Why I Left Goldman Sachs.” I reviewed it for Bloomberg today, and you can read the review here.

I have criticisms of “Why I Left.” Smith walks us through his 12 years at Goldman but doesn’t reflect on the fact that he himself was seduced by the firm and its much hyped culture of integrity and “customer first.”

And he doesn’t look at the current problems of Goldman and its competitors with a sense of history. Fraud, scandals, and conflicts of interest on Wall Street should be addressed, as Smith says, but they are nothing new. “Why I Left,” though, is mostly limited to the dozen years Smith was at the company and the “toxic” culture he observed at the end. I wonder if he understood that Goldman may not have been all it was cracked up to be in the first place.

That said, he’s getting creamed with criticisms I don’t think he deserves. The book was all hype and didn’t disclose anything illegal, goes one argument. Well, the author said “I don’t know of any illegal behavior” in that op-ed seven months ago, so why did his critics expect otherwise? My favorite Greg Smith bash is the argument that goes something like this: “He asked Goldman for a million-dollar bonus that he didn’t deserve.” Are we really supposed to be shocked at the notion of someone on Wall Street wanting to get paid more than they deserve?

Considering Smith’s out of work, maybe Goldman will consider him for its next FT/Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award, which gives five-figure payments to authors who sometimes even write about brokerage firms. Talk about a conflict of interest.

Goldman’s counterattack has been over-the-top. The firm shared excerpts from Smith’s self-evaluations with Bloomberg, as well as documents that showed he was denied a raise and a promotion.

Did you know that your bosses could hand out information from your HR files if you tick them off? I’ll bet that looming threat is adding a whole new understanding of the firm’s culture of “collaboration, teamwork and integrity” with the troops at Goldman.

The book could have been better. The issues Smith raised are important even if they are age-old Wall Street problems. And the message from Smith’s former employer is loud and clear: Don’t mess with Goldman Sachs.

Whistle-blower’s Grim Tale:
Naughty Boys on Wall Street

Antilla’s meticulously researched book … throws a
light on how, as a Minneapolis civil-rights lawyer puts it,
“Wall Street is thirty years behind every other industry or profession” when it comes to women.

Tales from the Boom-Boom Room: Women vs. Wall Street, by Susan Antilla. Bloomberg Press, 384 pages, $26.95.

Back in 1984, a young woman walked into the Garden City, N.Y., branch of Shearson / American Express, looking for a job as a stockbroker. Her first interview was so lavishly abusive that she thought it must be a put-on, but her second seemed normal enough-until she noticed her would-be boss sporting a handgun in an ankle holster, buddy-cop style. Read Entire Review

Sex & The Street: Business Week Review

According to one psychologist’s survey, more than 30% of Smith Barney women were suffering from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

With all the challenges faced by new Smith Barney Chief Executive Sallie L. Krawcheck, there’s one she may not have thought of: the firm’s reputation, earned in the 1990s, for mistreatment of women. Krawcheck, the former CEO of Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., signed on with the Citigroup (C ) subsidiary on Oct. 30. The selection of the highly respected executive is a smart move by Citi CEO Sanford I. Weill, since Smith Barney has become the focus of outrage over the cozy ties between analysts and bankers. However, as Susan Antilla’s comprehensive and sharply written Tales from the Boom-Boom Room: Women vs. Wall Street reminds us, only six years have elapsed since the firm was regarded as a den of sexism. Read review.