Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Warren Buffett's philanthropic pledge

Was reading Warren Buffett's philanthropic pledge in the latest Fortune and the following passage stood out.

My luck was accentuated by my living in a market system that sometimes produces distorted results, though overall it serves our country well. I've worked in an economy that rewards someone who saves the life of others on the battlefield with a medal, rewards a great teacher with thank-you notes from parents, but rewards those who can detect the mispricing of securities with sums reaching into billions. In short, fate's distribution of long straws is wildly capricious.
Yes, I know it is great that Buffett and The Gates (Bill and Miranda) are asking wealthy Americans to pledge 50% of their wealth to charity. But for me, it is grave unfairness of the haunting truth of the above statement that needs attention. This, if anything, is what I hope to leave with you today.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Dealing with failures

Disappointments and failures – both professional and personal – are a part of anyone's life. How you deal with them shapes your life and that of others around you. People handle disappointments in a many ways ranging from inability to control their emotions with behavior such as stomping feet, shouting and throwing tantrums, to complete denial and building a shell around them so that failures can't be discussed. Both these extremes make life difficult – at work and home. This post analyses the consequences of your response to failures on your career. Response to failures can basically be of four kind

  1. Aggressive - Lack of Self-Control, Shouting, Threats.
  2. Sophisticated and shrewd blame game, Successfully putting the responsibility on co-workers, procedures etc
  3. Remedial/Corrective – Finding where mistakes occurred and redoing things, correctly
  4. Innovation & Abandon – Trying a completely new approach

I don't consider the silly blame game as a response. You come out looking even more idiotic and unconvincing. A particular response may have a very different consequence for you depending on your career level. For example, you can get away with option a if you are senior enough though it is highly likely that you have destroyed your team's morale. The table below captures the impact of these behaviors on your careers. I think most of behave in a certain way in a crisis because it has got to do with we are than what the issue is. Cognizance of our own behavior pattern is the first step in modifying it to something more appropriate.

Behavior/ Career Level






Highly detrimental. Can even have immediate negative consequences.

Can be successful if well used. The key word here is sparingly, only when desperately needed. You can't afford to have a reputation for blaming.

Highly suited for repetitive jobs such as achieving the monthly sales targets

Mostly not welcome except for creative / non-repetitive jobs. Example – finding a new target segment. People want to know you can effectively follow directions and established norms.


Easier to get by than at junior level.

Not recommended. At this level people are looking at you to take responsibility.

Required as a part of managing others doing repetitive jobs

Needed. Welcomed more than at junior level. Be careful that innovation is not turning into escapism.


Though it appears that you can get by, there are huge disadvantages to behaving like this. It shows you not in control of a situation & can cause people to lose faith in your leadership

Since you have authority over & are responsible for everything, highly undesirable and ineffective

Needed. Shows that you are in control, and you can lead and teach

Required. Unless you have a different innovative idea for executing the company's vision, your subordinates won't have faith in your leadership.


We don't become different people in office. Most of us behave similarly in our personal life too, leading to same consequences. This understanding can help you & I become a better person.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Book Review : The Trillion Dollar Meltdown

I just finished Charles Morris's The Trillion Dollar Meltdown which was published in January 2008. Since the book is based on an area of professional interest, I think it deserves a detailed review and not just an update.

Morris' book was one of the first texts on financial crisis to come to the market. In less than 200 pages the book covers a huge breadth of topics. Starting from the precedents and history of the recessions during the Lyndon & Reagan presidencies, it goes on to talk about the previous market crashes caused by portfolio insurance & the failure of Long Term Capital Management. He describes the current crisis starting of course from the usual CDO's and derivatives, predatory lending practices including the NINJNA (No Income, No Job, No Asset) loans, the cascading effects of high leverage at hedge funds and other financial institutions and the roles of  the raters, insurers and government bond market. He reconfirms my view that loose monetary policy at the time of Alan Greenspan was one of the leading causes of the crises. (Read my previous post here). Morris strongly approves Paul Volker's handling of the problem in 80's. But what really impressed me about the book is that it covers to the global distribution of money, trade deficits &surpluses and also reserves in countries like China, Russia & in the middle-east. By including the power of sovereign wealth fund of these countries and the recent academic debate about China's savings rate & currency valuations, the authors covers the issue from both domestic & international angles. Any review of the book must take into account that Morris was forecasting the future & not analyzing events.

But there are some drawbacks of packing too much into so few pages and shipping the first book and at some places it misses depth. But for a bird's eye of how thing went wrong and where, The Trillion Dollar Meltdown is great book. In fact I definitely recommend it for any bookshelf. Coming from the other side of the table, Morris sees huge limitations of free markets in cleaning up the current mess. According to him the only immediate option America had was to deleverage (and hopefully in an orderly fashion or things would turn really bad). With the benefit of hindsight, here is a passage from the book

The recent woes of the dollar are important for our story because they effectively take the Fed off the board. As credit crunch works its way through banks and investment funds over the next year or so, there will be no soothing fountains of new dollars coming out of Washington. The days of a universal put to the Federal Reserve are finally over.

Clearly even the best of people did not anticipate how many dollars the Federal Reserve and the government would be willing to print. Here are author's views about the $800 TARP in an interview in October 2008.

Book Update: Right now am reading 'The World is Flat' and 'Eat, Love Pray'.