Tuesday, April 1, 2008
E. Stanley O'Neal
It's good to put a human face on calamities, lest we forget that real humans cause and are effected by them. There's been a lot in the press recently about the victims of credit markets, usually about how Joe Sixpack who was foolishly duped into taking a mortgage he couldn't afford, luring him with lenient terms and offering multiple refinances that allowed him to use his house as an ATM. Eventually the home is lost and lives are ruined, and some greedy fat cat or nerd quant trader is to blame. Such stories are true stories, but not the only stories out there.
John Cassidy wrote a superb profile of the deposed former Wall Street titan for the March 31, 2008 issue of The New Yorker. It's just the sort of penetrating, long form journalism that gives the reader more than a sound bite or a carefully crafted press release.
O'Neal has a truly all American story. His grandfather was born a slave. He worked the line at General Motors. He later parlayed that into a Harvard MBA. He was the first black CEO of a major Wall Street firm. Even the many enemies that she made at Mother Merrill would conceded that he was a smart, hardworking man. I didn't feel sorry for Stan O'Neal after reading it, but I did feel that I better understood his actions and the institution that he led.
Like many men of power, O'Neal seems to have been an imperious control freak. This is forgivable when profits are up, but when the lean times come, people are reluctant to stomach such behavior.
Last month, O'Neal(along with a rogue's gallery of disgraced former CEOs) appeared before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to discuss the mortgage mess and CEO compensation. Here are his remarks.