Monday, July 09, 2007

Did the Bear Stearns CEO golf too much? (UPDATE 16 July)

In Sunday's New York Times there appeared an article about Bear Stearns CEO James Cayne, disparaging his work ethic during the company's recent hedge fund crisis.

By consulting GHIN, an online database for posting scores and calculating handicaps, Times reporter Patrick McGeehan determined that Cayne played golf on days when important events were playing out in the hedge fund drama. A sample:

On Thursday, June 21, as several big banks pressured Bear Stearns to increase the collateral on loans they had made to its sinking fund, Mr. Cayne was back on the course. That day, he shot a 98.
The implication is Nero was fiddling as Rome was burning--that Cayne either didn't care, couldn't be bothered, or delegated management of the crisis to others.

I'm deeply suspicious of the subtext of the article. I hear these undertones: CEOs are supposed to work long hours. They need to have their hands on the wheel during a crisis. Playing golf or otherwise doing something relaxing on a weekday is loafing off. Anyone who would golf on all those days must be disconnected from his company's day-to-day reality.

But what if the truth is more complicated? Is it possible to help manage through a crisis and still get eighteen holes in after five p.m.? I don't think McGeehan wanted to know--it could have spoiled his clever story.

I'm rooting for Cayne here. Maybe he's more than a big-shot prima donna who lands his helicopter on the practice range. Maybe he's figured out a way to get some balance in his life.

If, while he was out on the golf course, he was working his lieutenants twenty hours a day on this situation, that's one thing. But if the entire executive team or for that matter if the entire company is able to create some kind of work-life balance, as opposed to grinding it out sixty or seventy hours a week, then I have three words for Mr. Cayne:

Good for you.

UPDATE 16 Jul 2007: New York Times Dealbook reports that Cayne's club is investigating him for possibly changing his score in order to win a recent tournament at the club. If this allegation turns out to be true, then he's a loser in my book and I will disavow what I wrote in this post. Because if you will cheat to win at golf, then you unquestionably lack balance in your life.

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