The following is a dramatic reenactment. The events described within may or may not have actually happened.
This morning, 4 a.m.: Rye N.Y.: Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack, clad in his softest Snoopy pajamas, was sitting in front of his home computer, reading intently. A casual observer might have thought it was the light from his monitor giving his normally bronzed skin a grayish hue, but in reality, it was the article he was reading in the New York Times:
“The lights have dimmed inside the House of Mack, leaving its hard-charging leader fighting for his legacy,” the article read, before going on to point out that Morgan Stanley’s $159 million loss in the third quarter — the firm’s third consecutive quarterly loss — made it an undeniable loser, both as a financial institution and in its a longtime rivalry with Goldman Sachs. And Mack, they said, would be the one taking the blame.
Mack felt a dull ache in the pit of his stomach. It wasn’t the comparison between him and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein — he of the outsized profits and dancing eyes — that was causing the pain, he said to himself. Nor was it the half-dozen cannolli he had consumed last night after the humiliating earnings call, wrapped up on the sofa in an old terrycloth robe, watching DVR-ed episodes of the Real Housewives of New Jersey. No, what really stung was the way the paper referred to him being “in the twilight of his career.” As if he was done. As if he was dead, and this earnings period was his last will and testament.
He had only done what he thought people wanted. He had been cautious. He hadn’t piled on risk. And now, this:
“He is older than his peers and he is coming to the end of his time,” said William D. Cohan, author of “House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street,” a book about the financial crisis. “He wants to make sure that he gets the firm back on the right track so that he can head off in good shape.”
Mack felt a surge of anger. Fuck this guy Cohan, he said to himself. Who did he think he was? Maybe Mack would take him out to lunch and tell him what he thought of him, he said to himself. Do it to his face, like a man. “You think you’re hot shit?” he’d say to him. “You sold your soul when you told Jimmy Cayne you wouldn’t mention his pot use in exchange for access and everybody knows it, you fucking prostitution whore!” he’d say, before upending the table and splashing the nice Rioja all over the crotch of Cohan’s candy-ass Banana Republic pants.
Just then, a Google Alert interrupted Mack’s fantasy. He glanced at the headlines, anticipating further disappointment. Mack Is No Blankfein, Thankfully, was the first headline. He blinked. Reuters Matthew Goldstein was actually praising his “sensible approach to risk taking.”
“Mack’s strategy of de-emphasizing prop trading as a main revenue driver and getting back to the basics of asset management and investment banking is a smart move,” he had written.
He scanned for the obligatory snide mention of how Mack had set aside 72 percent of the firm’s profits for employee compensation, but there was none. Today, at least, Goldsteain’s hatred for Goldman Sachs outweighed his issues with compensation.
Mack stood up and opened his curtains. Outside, the sun was rising over the Apawamis golf course. He stood there for a moment, taking it all in. Then he put on a suit, brushed a thin layer of clear mascara onto his eyebrows, and prepared to face the day. There was work to be done. After all, he was not dead. Not yet.