Of course, unlike, say, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon, who has reacted to increased oversight as though the government has squeezed him into a fire-ant-filled chastity belt, Mack doesn’t have to actually implement the reforms he advocates. He stepped down as CEO in early 2010, before Morgan Stanley was forced to pare back its proprietary trading, and he gave up his chairman position last year, in favor of a part-time advisory role that allows him to pursue outside projects while still retaining an office and an assistant.
Predictably, the downsizing at Morgan has been painful. In January, Mack’s successor, James Gorman, announced a 20 to 30 percent pay cut, advising employees who were unhappy with it to “just leave.” “Just leave,” Mack chortles over his beer. “That’s the right answer!” But while the comment may have played well to an outside audience, it didn’t do much to improve the spirits of those toiling at the company. “All my friends who got left behind are miserable,” says one recently laid-off programmer, adding that most young Wall Streeters like him are heading to Silicon Valley, where you can make money without getting the stink eye from Barney Frank.
Mack doesn’t buy that argument, or the other one ignited by a former Goldman vice-president who last month resigned in a Times op-ed, citing disillusionment with an industry that has become overly focused on profit. “I can’t believe the Times even printed that,” Mack snorts. “Last time I checked, we were in business to be profitable. The guy’s been working at the firm for twelve years. I mean, it took you twelve years to figure out what you figured out?”
Even though he is now invested in Rev—a business described by its CEO as catering to people “who don’t trust banks, for whatever reason”—John Mack is still bullish on Wall Street, where huge fortunes can be lost and made back just as quickly. “Although the numbers have changed dramatically, I can’t think of a better business,” he says. “Even in a crazy market, to be a part of that fear and euphoria, to do a transaction no one else can get done … ” He drifts off. “I find the business hypnotic. I’m really addicted to it. I love it.” Draining his beer, he turns to go. “You have to do what makes you passionate and turns you on,” he adds. “And this really turns me on.”