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All Business is Personal


"Hoofy, it's not you. It's me. I'm simply no longer attracted to you."


It's been said that The Godfather movies taught Mobsters how to talk. Whereas pre-film FBI wire taps reflected, shall we say, "the language of the streets," by late 1972 the majority of taped Mob conversations included the axioms of the film.

As in the Mob so it has been on Wall Street, where tough-speak of all sorts is held in high regard. Any act of purchasing aggression since the movie has been "making him an offer he can't refuse." Acts of career timidity have met a stern "be a Man." And horrifying acts of career-advancing ruthlessness are shrugged off with a ostentatiously casual "it's not personal, it's business."

The last is the perhaps the most oft-quoted phrase of the two movies [NB: there are unconfirmed rumors that a third Godfather was made]. It's the cliche' of choice to soothe any perceived wounds incurred by victims of crushing acts. "You shouldn't be sad that you and all your reports got laid off for being 'useless' and you can only afford cat-food for dinner... it was just business, not personal."

I've had some experience with this so let me shoulder you up a personal learning curve: "It's business, not personal (IBNP)," doesn't work as a balm. It doesn't make you feel better when you get gutted. It doesn't quiet the guilt when you do the gutting. The words hold no magic because they hold no truth.

All business is personal. It's nearly impossible to do business of any sort without acting, and reacting, in a viscerally personal way.

If you don't think the IBNP belief is held dear consider Ken Langone, the co-founder of Home Depot (HD). The Street is atwitter today over Langone's proposed bid for the NYSE. Chins are wagging over Langone seeming "angry". He's not being called a Hothead, exactly, but mostly only because it would be bad form to say it outright. "He's very competitive," it's buzzed.

The paper of record, the NY Times itself, notes that Langone's bid, "may be fueled by outsized passions as opposed to any hard-headed analysis he may have done." The next paragraph refers to Langone as "incensed".

Wow. Even if the guy did any analysis whatsoever it was "hard-headed" (is that phrase really used to mean anything positive?). Hide the women and children; Langone is on some sort of a rampage again.

Mr. Langone's hair-trigger passions have, somehow, been triggered by any or all of the following events in his recent C.V. Remember, IBNP would hold that Mr. Langone should have taken none of this personally:

  • As Chairman of the NYSE compensation committee, Mr. Langone was alone among the 25+ directors of the exchange unable or unwilling to deny being aware of Dick Grasso's pay.
  • Not only did none of Langone's fellow directors stand behind Langone and Grasso, the former head of the NYSE's human resources, who then worked as a paid outside executive compensation consultant for the exchange, has cut a deal with Elliot Spitzer and will testify against Langone.
  • Oh, that's right, Langone's refreshing candor in confessing that he actually, "did his job" while a director at the NYSE was rewarded by Langone being the sole director named as co-defendant in a suit being brought by Spitzer. Langone is personally potentially on the hook for $18-million (in an impersonal way).
  • Langone, formerly one of the more respected men in business, was forced to resign from the board of General Electric (GE) last February as a result of the suit.
  • As a seat holder on the exchange, Langone expressed rage over the NYSE head's former firm, Goldman Sachs (GS) and their crisp-white gloves, serving on both sides of the negotiated price for Langone's seat. (Goldman says "the client didn't object," citing the, "If it was me, I'd bluff me," Ox defense, from Stripes).

My goodness. I haven't seen this level of inexplicable rage since Randy "Macho Man" Savage flipped on Hulk Hogan, bringing an end to the reign of the Super Powers. Langone is like the guy who gets drunk and picks a fight at every wedding.

Or he's living in the real world. The world where there is a spiritual, personal, connection to business interactions. A world where the guy going on TV telling the world that you are a bully and a criminal means those things as personal criticisms.

Perhaps Langone, like the Godfather himself is simply, "a superstitious man," who, his when his career is subject to events akin to getting, "shot in the head by a police officer or hung in a cell or struck by a bolt of lightning," he takes it personally. He goes looking for retribution.

This NYSE deal with Archipelago has a bad whiff to it. It's too big to stuff through fast and unnoticed. It's not a question of the strategy, it's the way it was done. It's a mistake and Langone is going to hammer the certain exchange members over it. Specifically, the members who were in the room when they decided to try to whack Langone's reputation.

He's back and this time, like everytime, it's personal.

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