Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Worst CEOs of 2011 Countdown - Number 3

What a guy!  Jon Corzine ran Goldman Sachs (before he was pushed out by former Goldman Sachs CEO and former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson).  Then he served as United States Senator for New Jersey (before he left to run for Governor).  Then he served as Governor of New Jersey (before losing his re-election bid to Chris Christie in 2008).  What a resume!

Next stop:  CEO of MF Global, a sleepy not-particularly-profitable financial institution.  Corzine transformed the company into an aggressive trading machine that valued risk-taking and looked to make it big.  The Goldman Sachs wannabe under Corzine took big risks and disregarded repeated warnings from Chief Risk Officers about those risks.

The big bet was of European sovereign debt, which Corzine pushed and led from the start.  Ironically, it’s not that the bet lost money, but rather this was the bet that led to the eventual downfall of the company.  In the post-2008 financial crisis era, regulators are paying a little more attention, and when they questioned the trade and the leverage behind it, they also demanded more collateral in case it went bad.  Corzine had stretched MF Global to the limit in his bet-the-company strategy, and when demands for more capital could not be met, the run on the bank was on.  MF Global is now bankrupt, a mere 20 months after Jon Corzine took over as CEO.

The denouement will take some time, as there is still the little matter of a billion dollars or so that has gone missing.  Corzine has testified that he knew nothing of this, and he may well be telling the truth.  But, if the buck doesn’t stop with the CEO, where does it stop?

Tomorrow I reveal my choice for #2 Worst CEO of the Year.  I hear there might be a movie version of this person’s stellar year.

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