Perhaps we should no longer be surprised by the arrogance of Wall Street executives. Still, the level of hubris and bullying displayed by Jon Corzine during his 19-month tenure as chairman and chief executive officer of MF Global Holdings Ltd. (MFGLQ) — as described in a recent congressional report about the company’s 2011 collapse — stands out for sheer offensiveness.
The 97-page report prepared by the staff for Republicans on the House Financial Services Committee panel on oversight and investigation pulls no punches when it comes to blaming Corzine for the MF Global disaster, which wiped out thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of customers’ and creditors’ money. “Jon Corzine caused MF Global’s bankruptcy and put customer funds at risk,” the report concludes flatly.
And the gory details strewn throughout the elegantly written report — some revealed for the first time — show the full extent to which Corzine was out of control. In May 2010, two months after he was hired, Corzine, the former senior partner of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) and former governor and U.S. senator from New Jersey, began his pattern of deception.
“The goal here is not to be a prop trader,” the report claims Corzine said. “I don’t think that we will be in a risk taking position, substantial enough to have it be the kind of thing that the rating agencies would say ‘holy cow, these guys got a different business strategy’ than what we told them we had.”
In February of 2011, Jamie Dimon, the chief executive officer of JPMorgan Chase, approached the podium of one of the ballrooms at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Key Biscayne, Fla., where 300 senior executives from around the world were attending the bank’s annual off-site conference. By that time, the cold fear of the financial crisis was cordoned off in the near-distant past, replaced by a dawning recognition that the ensuing changes in business — the comparatively trifling risk limits, the dwindling bonuses, the elevated stress levels — might actually be permanent. That day, Dimon took the opportunity, according to a bank employee in attendance, to try to inspire his team, to rouse them from the industrywide sense of malaise. Yes, there were challenges, Dimon said, but it was the job of leadership to be strong. They should be prudent, but step up — be bold. He looked out into the audience, where Ina Drew, the 54-year-old chief investment officer, was sitting at one of the tables. “Ina,” he said, singling her out, “is bold.”
Perhaps by now when bankers hear that kind of public praise, they simultaneously hear a distant clanging, a dim alarm that provokes an undercurrent of anxiety. It seems inevitable that an acknowledgment of such star power will eventually lead to a fall, a big one, and one year and three months later, Drew succumbed. Her team had been bold, so bold that along with Dimon, she had become the public face attached to a $6 billion mistake, a trading loss so startling in size that it dominated the business press, put Dimon on the defensive and cost Drew her job. Over and over again, online and on television, in stories about the loss, the same corporate headshot appeared: a woman wearing a hot pink bouclé jacket, showing a smile so faint it was almost frank in its discomfort.
Drew never craved public recognition, which is one reason, up until the trading error, almost no one outside of Wall Street had heard of her. Her longstanding anonymity is astonishing only in retrospect: All told, she invested nearly $350 billion for JPMorgan Chase. Drew had her hand on a major economic lever and was one of the key figures whose judgment Dimon relied on in keeping the bank steady through the financial crisis. Drew was part of the team that helped establish him as a model of restraint at a time when other bankers offered only tongue-tied defenses of their reckless behavior. Now she was responsible for the traders who had made Dimon look as fallible as everyone else, and at the very moment when he was trying, once again, to assure government regulators that banks could manage themselves, that bankers could risk-proof their balance sheets.
Mitt Romney skipped Italy on his swing through Europe. That was probably prudent.
That’s because Bain Capital, under Romney as chief executive officer, made about $1 billion in a leveraged buyout 12 years ago that remains controversial in Italy to this day. Bain was part of a group that bought a telephone-directory company from the Italian government and then sold it about two years later, at the peak of the technology bubble, for about 25 times what it paid.
Bain funneled profits through subsidiaries in Luxembourg, a common corporate strategy for avoiding income taxes in other European countries, according to documents reviewed by Bloomberg News. The buyer, Italy’s biggest telephone company, now has a total market value less than what it paid Bain and other investors for the directory business.
Mitt Romney avoiding income taxes. Hey, I’ve heard this somewhere before.
As Bain’s CEO from 1984 to 2001, Romney was personally involved in the deal at various points, including the initial decision to invest. He attended at least one meeting about it in Boston, according to a participant. When Bain sold the directory business in 2000, Romney, while still holding the title of CEO, was in charge of preparations for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Romney has contended that he gave up management control of Bain in February 1999 to run the games.
Wait, I thought he was retroactively retired by then. But Romney, super-manager that he is, found enough time to fleece Italian taxpayers.
While Bain won’t disclose its precise return on the investment, Cuneo’s office said Investitori Associati’s return was almost 28 times the initial investment. Bain, like other private equity firms, enhances returns by using borrowed money to finance acquisitions.
Bain moved profits through a series of subsidiaries in Luxembourg, a country that makes it easy to get cash out without paying taxes, according to corporate filings. Corporate records in Luxembourg show Bain carried out technical steps for a tax- free repatriation of profits to the U.S.
Seat was sold in 2003 for 3.7 billion euros to another group of private equity firms and today has a market value of 57 million euros. Today, all of Telecom Italia has a market capitalization of 12.5 billion euros. Since February 2000, shares in Telecom Italia have declined about 90 percent.
‘The government got ripped off,’ said Alessandro Fogliati, who led a Stet shareholder group that voted against the sale of Seat. ‘It was the beginning of the destruction of Italian industry.’
Swiss bank accounts, tax havens, and general corporate malfeasance! But what does the Romney campaign have to say about it?
‘With this investment, Mitt Romney and Bain Capital, with its consortium partners, partnered with a new management team to transform this company, and grow it into a tremendous success,’ said Michele Davis, a spokeswoman for Romney’s presidential campaign. ‘Mitt Romney is running for President to put that experience to work.’
So they’re admitting he was CEO at the time, at least!
Shortly after Mitt Romney took a leave of absence from Bain Capital to run the Olympics in February 1999, he made a trip to Palm Beach, Fla. The firm Romney founded was meeting to celebrate its 15th anniversary as well as the men he had helped make extraordinarily wealthy.
Romney and his partners had decided that, in his absence, five managing directors would oversee the company. And in Palm Beach it became clearer that Romney was unlikely to return — but would retain his title as chief executive officer and sole shareholder.
The Palm Beach meeting, which has not been previously reported, demonstrates the duality of Romney’s role as he parted ways with Bain, an issue that has sparked controversy in his presidential campaign. Romney has said in financial disclosure statements that he “was not involved in the operations of any Bain Capital entity in any way” after Feb. 11, 1999. But he was still legally the CEO, with numerous duties and obligations that were his alone, until early 2002.
Interviews with a half-dozen of Romney’s former partners and associates, as well as public records, show that he was not merely an absentee owner during this period. He signed dozens of company documents, including filings with regulators on a vast array of Bain’s investment entities. And he drove the complex negotiations over his own large severance package, a deal that was critical to the firm’s future without him, according to his former associates.
Indeed, by remaining CEO and sole shareholder, Romney held on to his leverage in the talks that resulted in his generous 10-year retirement package, according to former associates.
Dec. 8 (Bloomberg) — Jon S. Corzine, former chairman and chief executive officer of MF Global Holdings Ltd., will apologize to investors, customers and employees of the failed New York broker and tell lawmakers he doesn’t know the location of the estimated $1.2 billion in missing client money.
“I simply do not know where the money is, or why the accounts have not been reconciled to date,” Corzine said in a statement prepared for a House Agriculture Committee hearing in Washington today.
I’m sure that the people who have been completely bankrupted by this gross mishandling of their funds will not be too receptive to an apology. Perhaps there needs to be an investigation into the assets of all employees that are in a position to manipulate large amounts of money. $1.2 billion doesn’t just get up and walk out the door unassisted.