My Surreal Life: Jon Corzine
Although I've never actually had a conversation with MF Global's disgraced former CEO, Jon Corzine, all of the statements ascribed to Corzine below are rigorously authentic.
John Corzine: My grandfather was a big-time farmer, had about 2,000 acres. Unfortunately, he did what a lot of people are doing today: Borrowed too much money. And when the 1920s collapse came, he lost absolutely everything. Everything you do, as a farmer, is at risk.
Alex Dumortier: That's one lesson that never held you back.
JC: [At Goldman Sachs (NYS: GS) ] there was a focus on something other than just the profitability of the firm, but [on] the role of a firm and its people in the community it lives in.
AD: Those were the days.
JC: I'm excited about the next five, ten years at MF Global. I think actually building in an entrepreneurial environment, which I think MF Global provides, is going to be one of the exciting parts of my life. This is an opportunity to create value and a firm that I think will have a long life over a long period of time if we do it right.
AD: There was certainly no shortage of excitement.
JC: I believe there is a very important role for a high ethic, high integrity financial institution to operate in today's global markets. I think we can be good corporate citizens, help form capital and move it to the right places.
AD: Alternatively, you could help form capital and move it to the wrong places.
JC: We have to be disciplined; we can't go running 30:1 leverage ratios on our balance sheet.
AD: I agree. A 30:1 leverage ratio on a balance sheet is unacceptable; that kind of leverage belongs off-balance sheet.
JC: I believe there is substantial ability to grow [revenues] without really changing our risk appetite as opposed to our risk participation.
AD: Huh? I'm not following.
JC: And like every financial institution, making certain that you don't have the kind of car crash that this organization experienced back three or four years ago is essential by having tight controls, tight compliance, and making it part of the culture. And that's the kind of people we're hiring, and that's the kind of culture we're building.
AD: You clearly have your ambitions set much higher than that kind of car crash.
JC: I've spent a lifetime in this and I feel like we have developed an expertise that is consistent with a very best in class.
AD: You stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns of this world.
JC: We believe that not with every country, but with differentiated amounts of commitment, short dated participation in sovereign debt made sense at a basis that wasn't betting the ranch, but was improving our yields.
AD: As long as you can still bet the farm.
JC: Whatever you do, you've got to try to do very, very well. Try to be the leader in the world that you're about.
AD: Uh huh.
JC: Every institution ends up making mistakes; individuals and even sometimes the organizations themselves.
AD: No arguments there.
JC: As an old washed-up trader...
AD: Your words, not mine.
JC: Let me close by noting that while we recognize and respect the challenges of the environment, we also believe it is filled with opportunity...
AD: ...for your competitors. Thank you, Mr. Corzine.
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