That’ll Learn Him: Greek Statistician Will Stand Trial for Incorrect Deficit Numbers

Before the Greek debt crisis, the Greek government’s statistics agency, headed by Andreas Georgiou (yes, his name does end in IOU), manipulated the stats and made the Greek budget deficits smaller than the actually were. Under pressure from the EU, Georgiou changed the Greeks accounting, thus tumbling Greece into a crisis. Oh, what times are these when even the stats guys are under criminal charges.

Posted in News and Events | Leave a comment

Mexico Misses Its Deadline on Its Anticorruption Program: The Best Laid Plans of Graft and Men

There were grandiose plans. A full anticorruption effort complete with anticorruption prosecutor, 18 judges to hear corruption cases, and all within one year. Here we are, one year later, and the deadline has come and gone. Lawmakers could not agree on who should be the anticorruption prosecutor. The Senate failed to appoint any of the 18 anticorruption judges. And nearly one-half of the 32 Mexican have not passed any of the local regulations that were to also be part of the effort. Juan Montes, “Mexican Antigraft Efforts Falter,” Wall Street Journal, July 20, 2017, p. A18. https://www.wsj.com/articles/mexicos-anticorruption-efforts-stall-1500483099

The backdrop for all of this planned, albeit unexecuted activity, is that the U.S. will be demanding anticorruption provisions as part of the renegotiation of NAFTA. And, the fact that graft costs the Mexican economy $50 billion annually in lost output (according to the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness) did provide some motivation.

The movement for change started in 2014 when Presidente Pena Nieto had the embarrassing problem of his wife and finance minister purchasing homes on credit from a government contractor, a contractor with a close relationship with el Presidente. Small wonder that 82% of Mexicans believe the current party in charge is corrupt. No one in it is willing to create, implement, or enforce anticorruption laws. There are 352 graft cases, dating back to 2003, awaiting trial in the Senate, and they are taken in chronological order. Former President Javier Duarte, who left office when state auditors found a one-half billion dollar hole in the country’s coffers in 2015, has a long wait for his trial. And without a prosecutor and judges, well, without trials, the corruption might as well just sally forth.

Posted in News and Events | Leave a comment

“If you hold a tiger by the tail, you have a difficult choice to make: Do you let go or not? It’s not a good thing to alienate any legislative leader.”

Richard Runes, a lobbyist for Glenwood Management, testifying in the corruption trial of Sheldon Silver. Mr. Rune also testified, “He was one of the three most powerful people in the state of New York, governmentally.” Mr. Runes had Glenwood retain a law firm for its tax work, a law firm that would then pay Mr. Silver a referral fee. The fee-sharing arrangement of Mr. Silver with the law firm was written in an agreement separate from the Glenwood retainer agreement with the law firm. Mr. Runes said that he was unaware of the fee arrangement that funneled millions in referral fees to Mr. Silver.

Classic, “Well, everybody does it” or “If I don’t do it, someone else will” rationalizations for agreeing to use a law firm recommended by one of the three most powerful people, governmentally speaking, in New York. What did Mr. Runes think was happenin

Posted in Classic Quotes, News and Events | Leave a comment

Philadelphia District Attorney Pleads Guilty to Federal Corruption Charge

There’s headline you don’t want to see. R. Seth Williams was charged with providing official favors to two businesses in exchange for cash, Caribbean vacations, airline tickets, expensive furniture, a Burberry watch, a Burberry purse for his girlfriend and a Jaguar convertible. In exchange, one business owner got a special badge and access and another received help with security clearance in getting back into the country. The items were not disclosed on the city’s required disclosure forms until Mr. Williams learned that he was under investigation. The judge sent Mr. Williams directly to jail in advance of his sentencing hearing because the judge was “astonished” at the evidence and could not trust that Mr. Williams would show up for sentencing. Pennsylvania lost its attorney general to criminal charges and a representative to 10 years in prison for an illegal $1 million loan to his unsuccessful campaign for mayor. Pennsylvania is still south of the number of corruption convictions in New Jersey and New York, but the high offices held by individuals convicted finds Pennsylvania taking the lead.

Posted in News and Events | Leave a comment

“I’m a creep.”

Blog post by Dave McClure, founder and now former CEO of 500 Startups, a Silicon Valley incubator. The post was made after the company confirmed his resignation as CEO. Mr. McClure went on to explain that he made advances to “multiple women in work-related situations, where it was clearly inappropriate.” The woman upon whom the advances were made were entrepreneurs in need of financial support for their fledgling companies.

As more situations rise to the surface across Silicon Valley it has become clear that the culture of the high-tech field is one of the casting couch. To get ahead, women had to tolerate propositions, advances, and worse. As one Silicon Valley capital firm phrased it, “This is not just a case of a few bad actors. This is not something that is fixable with a pledge or a new policy. This is a culture that has been allowed to fester and to rot by enablers who refused to intervene when they witnessed inexcusable behavior or went to great lengths to avoid seeing it.”

Take iconic CEOs, phenomenal financial performance, perks, perception of goodness (Seven Signs) you create one heck of a yeehaw culture that is going to harm many. Too bad the remedy is ousting rogues instead of changing the culture.

Posted in News and Events | Leave a comment

“I looked right at him, and in my head I said, ‘That’s a snake’ — not knowing who he was.”

A potential juror during voir dire in the jury trial (for securities fraud) of Martin Shkreli.

Other potential jurors, who were struck one-by-one, did not have much better, even after the judge reminded the potential jurors that the trial was not related to Mr.Shkreli’s role as CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals and his role in increasing the prices of certain drugs by, oh, 4,984%. Here is a sampling:

“He is the face of corporate greed in America.”
“You’d have to convince me he is innocent.”
“Who does that? A person who puts profit above everything else.”
“The most hated man in America.”
“I honestly don’t think I can be impartial.”

The judge reminded the panel of potential jurors about the presumption of innocence. But, jurors were not buying this justice stuff. One responded, “I understand that, but everything I’ve seen. . . ”

The judge interrupted him mid-sentence and had to hold a side bar because the defense raised the legitimate point that the jurors who were being excused for cause were tainting the remainder of the pool with their comments.

Sixty-nine jurors were dismissed — dozens for cause. Forty potential jurors return today for further screening. The judge has asked for 100 more for the panel. A defendant so notorious that you cannot bring together an unbiased panel. You may have crossed a few ethical lines when you can’t find a juror with an open mind about you.

Posted in News and Events | Leave a comment

“Marketplaces don’t work when people are cheating.”

Travis Kalanick, Founder and Former CEO, Uber. Hmmmm.

Posted in News and Events | Leave a comment

Uber: The Gang That Can’t Shoot Straight

Uber was a Schumpeterian success. The creative destruction of the cab/Lincoln Town car transportation model. Independent contractors driving folks around in their own cars on their own schedules. Uber was hip, groovy, defiant, and the company the sophisticated opted to use for their transportation needs. Uber was the world’s most valuable start-up.

Then came the problems with alleged sexual harassment the corporate level. Then there was the failure to investigate properly the rape of a passenger by an Uber driver in India. Then came the accusations of theft of the driverless technology. Then Pittsburgh felt Uber was not delivering on its end of what was supposed to be a mutually beneficial relationship in that city. Then came accusations of an atmosphere of sexual harassment at the company. The came the suit by the Indian rape victim, a suit that names executives for alleged failures and lapses in security checks and their handling of the investigation. Then came the reality: accusations that Uber just treats everyone badly. With the CEO on indefinite leave, a committee of 14 executives, including HR and legal, will now run the company. And Ariana Huffington will no longer be the only woman on Uber’s board. Uber now has a second woman on board, as it were, Wan Ling Martello, former CFO on Nestle and Exec VP of Asia Zone. Ms. Huffington, at an all-hands meeting for the company, lectured on the importance of women on company boards, “When there’s one woman on the board, it’s much more likely that there will be a second woman on board.” Matt Jarzemsky, “Billionaire in Hot Water Over Uber Gaffe,” Wall Street Journal, June 16, 2017, p. B6. After Ms. Huffington offered that thought, David Bonderman, an Uber board member, billionaire, and chairman of private equity firm, TPG, quipped, “Actually, what it shows is that it’s much more likely to be more talking.” Now, that right there is a gaffe worthy of Uber’s string of gaffes. Mr. Bonderman has apologized and resigned from the Uber board.

Uber has a big-time culture problem on so many layers and in so many layers. The change needed is not likely to come from a 14-member committee as CEO or the addition of one woman to its board. The bad decisions and worse attempts at fixes keep piling up. Is there anyone at Uber with a lick of common sense? Bright technical minds, great entrepreneurial spirit, and the maturity of the Goonies Go to Animal House.

Posted in News and Events | Leave a comment

The NCAA Report “Does Not Identify a Single Specific Thing That Coach Pitino Should Have Done. . . “

Scott Thompsett, lawyer for Louisville head basketball coach, Rick Pitino, handling Mr. Pitino’s appeal of NCAA sanctions against him for the former director of operations providing strippers and prostitutes to basketball recruits in the basketball dorm on the campus.

Actually, having read the report, the Barometer found quite a few things that the NCAA identified:

1. Don’t hire as your director of operations one of your former basketball players who spent one year in the pros. One of the guys was supervising the guys.
2. Make sure that all the administrative paperwork is completed for recruits (especially those who are minors) staying overnight in the basketball dorm.
3. A basketball dorm built in memory of your brother-in-law (who died in the 9-11 attacks) is a wonderful gesture, but a basketball dorm (Minardi Hall) without some non-basketball supervision is a risky proposition.
4. Following up on cash disbursements in $200 increments might have given a few clues about the night activities for recruits in the basketball dorm.
5. Do a little surprise visit to the basketball format night and see what’s up. Over four years of these activities, you’re bound to pick up a few clues.
6. Check the security cameras and card entry records — who was coming in and out of the dorm at night? Those guests can be problematic.

In other words, like an executive in today’s world, one cannot delegate and then say, “I knew nothing.” Delegate, but monitor, and do the monitoring through procedures and surprise visits. Behave as parents of teenagers: Come home early and unannounced. You never know what you will find. But, you are always better off finding it than hoping all is well.

Posted in News and Events | Leave a comment

“8 Years of Rust Show as Senate Ethics Committee Finally Has Meeting”

New York Times, June 16, 2017, p. A24. Now there’s a headline. The headline refers to the ethics committee of the New York State Assembly. And it only took 12 senators being convicted of crimes and a host of various and sundry scandals that make Chicago look angelic to dust off the cobwebs.

The committee is off to a good start. Enough senators on the committee voted to end stipend payments (“Lulus” as they are called and have been paid to senators of the opposite party in order to obtain their support for power retention. They are bonuses the senators receive for, well, who knows?). Even Charles Rangel, he of tax questions and rent issues, has decried lulus as immoral. However, one of the senators on ethics committee came back and said he needed to change his vote. Rusty, indeed! Rusty presumes that there were once skills in place. The Barometer is not so sure.

Posted in News and Events | Leave a comment

Why Goldman Sachs Fund Managers Scooped Up Venezuelan Bonds Without Checking First

Goldman Sachs fund managers did not hesitate when a brokerage firm offered to sell them Venezuelan bonds for pennies on the dollar. Why not hop in and help fund a government that has left its people without food, toilet paper, and life’s basics? It never occurred to them that a decision to buy $2.8 Venezuelan bonds might result in some blowback and should have probably gone through the firm’s standards committee. That committee was created post-2008 so that senior management could take a look at investments that were shaky financially or socially. Goldman CEO, Lloyd Blankfein, trains employees on the importance of Goldman’s public perception, “Everyone has to have big eyes, big ears, know what’s going on around them, and be policeman for the organization.. At the end of the day, we only have one reputation.”

All good platitudes, especially the addition of the worn phrase, “at the end of the day.” Repeat them all you can and all you want, but the phrases cannot compete with what you reward and pay structure. A money manager cannot be swayed by such when he is offered bonds for pennies on the dollar. It’s what money managers do under current incentive and performance standards. Employees sit through the Blankfein lectures on reputation being the end-all and the cynical money managers do what they do best — buy low, cash in high. The training only makes them more cynical, which is why it did not dawn on them to seek approval. They buy cheap; it’s what they do. Goldman has a long way to go before its culture gives money managers the freedom to question reputational soundness of a bond investment in some bad actors. Set up standards committees, let your CEO do the training. ‘Tis all for naught if the culture is driven by results.

Posted in News and Events | Leave a comment

Curley, Schultz, and Spanier of Penn State Sentenced to Prison

For endangering the welfare of a child, the former president, a senior vice president, and athletic director were sentenced by a Pennsylvania judge to a minimum of two months in prison, with varying additional confinement time among the three, fines, and probation for two years. A jury convicted the men of failing to report to law enforcement officials that they had received a report that former assistant football coach, Jerry Sandusky, had molested a child in the shower. The three had offered a defense that they were not told that the episode was “overtly sexual.”

Hmmm. An assistant coach naked with a young boy in the football program’s showers should have at least raised a risk management issue and additional action. As a result of their inaction, Mr. Sandusky moved along assaulting other minor boys, and was convicted in 2012 of 65 counts of sexual abuse.
her Penn State casep — long before Judge Boccabella uttered the same phrase in handing down the sentences. To quote Judge Boccabella, “Why no one made a phone call to police is beyond me.”

The Barometer, having studied these cases for years understands why three bright people who have been called good people made such a decision. They framed the issue the way that they did because they existed in a culture that rewarded them for preserving Penn State’s football program and its reputation. They framed the issue within their sense of loyalty to an assistant coach and a desire to not cause trouble for Mr. Sandusky (their e-mails referred to their decision to just talk with him as the “humane” thing to do). The three men framed the issue as doing their job to protect Penn State and being noble(humane) in their treatment of a friend. Poor framing leads to really bad decisions, and this one was a doozy. Begin any decision with a basic question, “Is what we’re about to do legal?” If the answer is no, stop there! There just isn’t much room for conscientious objection when it comes to reporting statutes. If a child has been hurt, molested, or injured, you report. They did not, and thereby defeated the very purpose of child-reporting statutes — other children became victims.

Mr. Schultz said at his sentencing, “It sickens me to think that I might have played a part in children’s suffering.” Mr. Spanier said, “I deeply regret that I did not intervene far more carefully.” Truth be told, Mr. Spanier did not intervene at all. And Mr. Schultz didn’t just play a part — he enabled the molestation of young boys because he skirted his legal duty. Thus we end this tale of woe with 4 people in jail, victims sentenced to physical harm, emotional trauma, and a lifetime of psychological burdens, and a school that will carry some tarnish for decades to come. In the words of Shakespeare, “All are punished.”

Posted in News and Events | Leave a comment

The key to the bottom line is the top line . . . if we had to select only one goal, it would be revenue growth.

From Wells Fargo’s mission statement in 2012. They did indeed get the revenue growth — on the retail side, Wells sold its retail customers an average of 5.9 products each. Wells led the industry in that per customer figure. However, given what happened at the bank, it is not clear that all Wells customers were aware that they had purchased 5.9 products. One of the drawbacks to cross-selling.

Posted in News and Events | Leave a comment

Wells Fargo Has a Plan for Luring Brokers: Bonuses Based on Performance — Sound Familiar?

In the aftermath of the fake accounts scandal at Wells Fargo, Wells Fargo lost 429 (3%) of its its brokers from its brokerage arm. As its rivals are cutting back on signing bonuses for the long time industry practice of poaching through those bonuses, Wells Fargo is sweetening the pot it offers brokers. When brokers leave one bank, they are likely to bring about 80% of their clients with them. That’s a nice slice of revenue increase. Wells is offering a recruitment bonus of as much as three times the annual revenue the brokers generate in their first year. The Department of Labor had issued all banks warnings that the three times amount being paid would result in problems with brokers acting in the best interests of their clients. So, Wells structured their three-times bonus (much higher than the 2.5 times the other industry players had gone with to avoid the DOL conflict) in the form of loans. The poached brokers are paid in the form of loans forgiven, the longer the broker stays at Wells. To get out from under the loans, the brokers must stay and continue to produce the revenue figure agreed upon at their signings. Okay, so more pressure, higher incentives, and nowhere to go with the loan handcuffs. Sounds as if Wells learned its lesson from the 2.3 million fake accounts created by the now-terminated 5,300 employees. Be careful what and how you incentivize. You will get the numbers; they just might not be real.

Posted in News and Events | Leave a comment