The Big Short: The film, the book, the idea

January 29, 2016

The Big Short

The recent film The Big Short reworks the ideas of the book of the same name.  It deals with important issues of financial practices and their consequences

 The Big Short is a comedy about what otherwise is no laughing matter, the dubious practices of financial fraudsters during the period of the global economic crisis. It has opened to generally positive reviews.  The ones I came across have whetted my appetite to make the film next for a visit to my local cinema, hopefully if I understand the advert with a mate and a date (same person).

Not a book or film review

 I might have waited before blogging until after that postponed pleasure.   However, there are a few other posts in revision in the pipeline for LWD, so this is more of a mention and a heads up for LWD subscribers like myself who are no friends of home viewing.  In it, I have tried to avoid spoiling any subscriber’s future enjoyment by passing on too much plot detail.

The film is based on the well-received book of the same name by Michael Lewis.   The big short  refers to buying ‘short’ , a financial strategy involving risks but promising great rewards.  In this case (you could say case study) the financial instruments are derivatives, or ‘gambles on gambles’. Specifically, the film and book concentrate on borrowing, then selling and buying back at a profit of Mortgage Default Insurance Options. The film ducks explaining the financial details , beyond making the point that the speculators are gambling on whether a catastrophic slump is coming in the housing sector.

I found the most enlightening review of the film was the one in The Wall Street Journal.

The film deals with the practices and their consequences of financial dealers contributing to the economic crash of 2008. The topic sounds arcane.  It is arcane.  But it has the advantages of drastic tension as mega-fortunes are made and lost, alongside personal triumphs and tragedies.  We are here in the same territory of the Wall Street morality tales, but (according to the WSJ review) mostly entertaining rather than preachy.

 Villains or heroes

You can, of course argue as did the WSJ that the speculative group of financial entrepreneurs are heroes of capitalism lancing the poison from the bubble so that the markets can return (eventually) to conditions of rationality and equitable trading.

The previews suggest that the film wraps all this up as a tense and enjoyable viewing experience.  I can’t wait to see it.

Tennis Matters: I didn’t see the match-fixing

January 27, 2016

Tennis Matters Blue

Tennis is the latest sport to find itself embroiled in a corruption scandal.  It is not the problem that many observers expected
Leaders We Deserve was and still remains a blog about leadership and its implications in business.  Sport remains a useful way of ‘back engineering’ into business leadership.
In recent months sport has provided a wealth of examples of issues of global institutions failing in the most basic tenets of social corporate responsibility.  LWD subscribers will be able to track back to the most recent in athletics and football.
So now for tennis.  Over the last few weeks a story has developed in a rather predictable way.  First, a suggestion that a few low ranked players were involved in match fixing.
All credit to the BBC who can still produce world class reporting from time to time.
Silence from tennis authorities. The story builds
World number one Novak Djokovic speaks out suggesting it is a minor problem, although he was approached to fix a match early in his career.  First time I was awoken from my slumbers.  Novak was reported as dismissing the claims as sheer speculation.  oh, no  Novak.  Better to have stayed shtum.
More reports that the problem is widespread.
I start preparing this post.
Then an announcement that an official enquiry is to take place.
Tennis Matters
I recently self-published Tennis Matters, a little book of personal anecdotes. One seeded participant at the on-going Australian Open was given a copy to read.  It includes updates of several LWD posts.  I was advised by a legal friend to be careful of one of the posts which suggested there might be a drug problem in tennis.  So I listened to him, but there is still a hint of my concerns in Tennis Matters.
What I didn’t see coming 
What I didn’t see coming was a different sort of scandal.  Over the years there have been curious collapses from winning positions. Players have been fined for not trying.  Perhaps I didn’t want to see any suspicions.  I was more interested in the tensions that impair ‘thinking clearly under pressure’
This story has legs
You can find my slightly redacted comments about drugs in tennis in Tennis Matters.  Until I put out a revised version, this post will have to do.  I have a feeling the story deserves the customary not quite final words … Watch out for updates.
To be continued

Rawan Albutairi is an ‘Outlier’ at Davos and Saudi Arabia

January 22, 2016

Rawan Albutairi

The BBC introduced this story with a slightly breathless first sentence, accompanied by several images of a striking young woman copyright by Ms Albutairi herself

Not that the BBC would use politically incorrect language, or other click-bait device. I can just about imagine the treatment from the Red Tops. Here’s an extract from the BBC version:

Rawan Albutairi wouldn’t have to do much to get noticed at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

A mere 18% of all delegates at the conference are female, and women under 30 are rarer still – especially if they are from Saudi Arabia.

Through the late King Abdullah’s scholarship programme, she studied finance at The University of Maine.

But the 28-year-old is unusual for other reasons, too. She’s a leading financial analyst at the world’s biggest oil and gas company, Aramco, managing a $ multi-billion budget, and she is one of the Forum’s “Global Shapers” – a title awarded for her work in encouraging more young women to enter Saudi Arabia’s male-dominated workforce.

What’s more, she’s currently in training for the Rio Olympics later this year. where she will be competing as part of the kingdom’s first ever female fencing team.

By her own admission, she’s an “outlier” in her country.

Why Rawan Albutairi is an Outlier

The BBC assumes its website readers understand why a 28 year-old Saudi woman attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, who is an Olympic fencing athlete and a finance manager at Aramco is an ‘Outlier’.

The story would have caught my eye anyway. the World Economic Forum held in Davos in January is always good for a leadership story. It is also a source of interest for conspiracy theorists about global Galacticos such as Warren Buffet and Tony Blair secretly planning wheezes to consolidate their mighty power.

Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s giant energy producer and source of its petro-wealth, is also in the news for plans of a finance a deal to adjust for its financial shortfalls following the continued slump in crude oil prices

But my interest was also quickened because I have been revisiting Malcolm Gladwell’s ideas about Outliers for a different writing project. (I am writing a book about Jose Mourinho, someone I see very much as a Gladwellian Outsider).

For Gladwell, exceptional achievements result from exceptional effort, and motivation. Debate continues regarding the requirement of innate and special talent. There is a lively debate continuing about the nature of exceptional talent. Gladwell suggests that outstanding achievers put in thousands of hours of motivated work before their talent is developed and appears effortless. There are many anecdotal accounts to back up his idea. Successful high achievers often show an obsessive compulsion and motivation from an early age. Natural talent combines with motivation and opportunity (which is helped along by mentors or parental encouragement).

Rawan Albutairi has much in common with ‘The Special One’. Her charismatic progress may be worth following.

The great Lord Coe mystery: how institutions finger the fall guys

January 19, 2016

As the credibility of FIFA, EUFA, and IAAF deteriorates under the weight of leadership scandals and incompetence, Lord Coe, newly appointed head of IAAF, remains untouched by the crises. For the moment.

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Sacrificial leadership by OPEC adds to market uncertainties

January 15, 2016

Rochdale PioneersI listed over twenty descriptions of leadership last year. One that slipped through unnoticed was sacrificial leadership which has been applied to OPEC’s approach to the oil market. What’s all that about?

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Inverting the Pyramid

January 11, 2016

Inverting the Pyramid

Book Review

‘Inverting the pyramid: A history of football tactics’ was written by football journalist Jonathan Wilson. It was published when Jose Mourinho was in his first spell as manager of Chelsea This review, unpublished at the time, has been updated as part of a study of Jose’s second spell at Chelsea

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Denial of Service Attacks are Blunt Instruments of Aggression

January 7, 2016

…Even if well-intentioned.

 A recent outage of the BBC website illustrates the unintended consequences of Denial of Service attacks. The hackers claimed it was a ‘practice run’ before attacks on global terrorist sites. Many millions of BBC website users have suspicions about the intentions and judgement of the perpetrators.

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Caroline McCall is early candidate for Leader of the Month

January 6, 2016

EasyJet’s Caroline McCall was appointed Dame in the New Year’s Honours list. Her latest honour is recognition for her services to industry as a business leader over a sparkling career

Most admired leader

Shortly before the award, McCall won recognition as ‘the most admired leader in Britain’.

According to the Telegraph [December 2 2015]:

The airline boss, who is one of just six female CEOs running a FTSE 100 company, is the first woman to secure the title in 25 years of the study, which is compiled by Management Today magazine.

“I hope that this will inspire more women, and that they will want to be in business and do it their way, be leaders of companies in their way,” said Ms McCall.

“Man or woman, it’s an honour to get an award like this. I’ve never underestimated how important it is to be a role model for women but I prefer to do that quietly rather than loudly.”

Easyjet and Earlier Achievements

Her new accolade draws on her success at building up the low-lost airline Easyjet, improving its customer services as well as profits. Her previous appointments have included CEO of the Guardian Media Group and membership of the boards of Tesco and the [then] Lloyds TSB.

LWD has followed her progress as a business leader in several earlier posts. A feature of her leadership style is considerable media skills. Listening to her in a radio interview in 2013 I was particularly impressed by a way of explaining her business without recourse to the business buzzwords that are written in to briefing documents by business schooled aides (OK, mea culpa on this one).

[Do send me your other nominations for January’s leader of the month. TR]