Enron became the poster child company for corporate greed, avarice and somebody asleep at the switch. Arthur Andersen became the poster child for auditors helping them. The NYSE became the poster child for big payouts to retiring executives (with many more companies to follow.) Eliot Spitzer is the current model for exercising bad judgment, marital headaches and poorly executed interstate commerce, among many other things.
Bear Stearns is about to become the new poster child of behavior gone-bad in full view, like videos of college students on Spring Break. But what will they become the poster child for? Will it be for financial statements so complicated no one knows how much they are worth? Will it be for a market cap less than the worth of one of their buildings? Will it be for the mortgage foreclosures that have a root somewhere, so why not there? Will it be for government bailouts for people who make a lot of money? Stay tuned for the poster as it emerges. In the meantime, there are at least two good things that will come out of the Bear Stearns meltdown.
1. Dread Removal – I know a lot of people in the high powered financial world who have said something like the following. “My job sucks but I am only going to do this until I am thirty five (could be forty but that is a stretch) because the money is so awesome. Then, I will do something that I really want to.” (Although undetermined.)
For all of those working in jobs that make you miserable but the pay is good, you now have the license to think differently. Bear Stearns has given you that license. If you are not doing what you want, don’t wait to do something else.
2. Real Career Awareness – I doubt anyone at Bear Stearns could have ever imagined that this prestigious, old firm could be in trouble and jobs would be lost. If it can happen there, think about where you are and whether it could happen to you too. Don’t lose sleep over it, just set your expectations. People ask me all the time if they should worry about their job. The answer is always yes. Bear Stearns and Arthur Andersen and Enron taught us that.
The real lesson from Bear Stearns is that all organizations are fragile. If it can happen in large, long established, prestigious places, it can happen just about anywhere.
Let’s make Bear Stearns the poster child that reminds us of the fragility of all organizations.