Friday, December 27, 2019

Thomas W. Jones on From Willard Straight to Wallstreet and What Happened at Citigroup

In this interview, Thomas W. Jones talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about his book, From Willard Straight to Wall Street: A Memoir.

“Give yourself a personal gift of 100% effort to achieve your highest potential.” ~Thomas W. Jones

Citigroup had entered a contract related to mutual funds, and the Securities and Exchange Commission had claimed that the contract concerned wasn’t fully properly disclosed to the mutual fund board. The Citigroup legal department had vetted the contract in all details, and while Citigroup settled the complaint, they didn’t include the otherwise usual provision that the senior management group concerned was also included in the terms of settlement. The SEC took this to mean that Citigroup had investigated the matter and concluded that the senior managers were at fault, hence the lack of inclusion of the senior managers in the terms of settlement - something which Tom remarked was “cynical” of then-CEO Charles Prince. This resulted in the full force of the federal government, through the SEC bringing charges against him, being brought on Thomas, and Thomas, rather than settle, spent eight years clearing his name. This process cost “millions” of dollars, and Thomas pointed out that the cost of his defense will not be recovered. He noted that, while the case against him was ongoing, he wouldn’t be able to hold a senior job in a regulated industry if one was in a fight against the regulating body, and that he chose to fight the charges because he was right and because he didn’t want those whom he worked with to think that there was anything shady about him. As he wasn’t employable, he thus needed to find a way to generate the funds needed for his legal defense as well as to support his family.

Thomas has noted that the way corporate America has changed since the 1970s, when he began working. As an example of this, Thomas notes that the CEO of General Electric, in the 1970s, retired with a package worth $10 million (around $50 million in today’s money); today, that CEO will retire with a retirement package worth $1 billion, and this cascades down the line, with the second in line getting a half billion dollar retirement package, the third in line getting a quarter billion dollar retirement package, and so on. He notes that this means that most of a company’s wealth is tied up with the top executives, and recalls that, in the 1970s, people viewed joining a major company to be a lifetime career move, with generous retirement and medical benefits. Thomas remarks that, in the 1970s, during a time which he called a period of “benevolent capitalism,” companies structured their guaranteed retirement packages so that retirees got around 65% of their working salary. All this changed, he notes, in the 1980s, when corporate raiders would buy and then control companies and then increase the companies’ cash flow by stripping out the costs (which included medical and retirement benefits and jobs) and then reselling those companies at a higher value, thanks to the apparent increased profitability of the company due to its increased cash flow. This led to later CEOs getting a mentality of wanting to cut costs wherever possible, and this shows itself in today’s environment, where retirement benefits are no longer fully funded by a company and medical benefits are greatly reduced. According to Thomas, this has resulted in a fear of people are able to keep up, and is a source for millennial thinking that capitalism isn’t the way to go, and perhaps socialism is. (In some comments made after the interview, Thomas remarked that the era of benevolent capitalism began after the Great Depression, when those in power realized that the common people had lost faith in the capitalist system and were likely to turn to socialism and communism.) He also notes that this has led to the transactional nature of work at present, which then breeds insecurity and which creates to tone of politics and the angry discourse that is prevalent today.

Where racism is concerned, Thomas notes that, at the present, the amount of progress that has been made isn’t front and center, whereas the issues that still need to be addressed are. He notes that there is still discrimination and believes that racist crimes, while these still do occur, are far less frequent now compared to fifty or a hundred years ago, as well as notes that the police back then weren’t punished for their actions. “It’s not perfect,” he notes, “but it’s moved in the right direction,” pointing out that people from non-white groups are now members of the middle class, thanks to this progress. Thomas also adds that the quality of education also plays a role in opportunities for everybody, but that, under the present system, as education is funded by local property taxes, those communities which collect a lesser amount of property tax will have fewer resources available for education that those which can collect more from their property taxes. This would explain why wealthier people, who cluster into higher-income communities, can afford good public education systems for their children, while those from lower-income communities cannot; and this means that children from the latter communities aren’t as prepared as those who come from the former communities.

Thomas has an investment fund which invests in startup businesses, and he enjoys being involved in this because of the energy and creativity of the people who are starting up new businesses. “This entrepreneurial energy is the secret sauce that makes America more successful than any other country around the world,” he notes. His fund identifies if a would-be business has a product that can solve a particular problem, as well as any added value when this product is applied and the size of the market. The revenue that can be generated is also considered, and the startup company is thus set up in a way where it can make the most impact.

Thomas emphasizes that the United States has come so far, as a country, from where it used to be, and while it should recognize that there is still some issues that need to be resolved, all should be proud of what has come out. On a personal level, he notes that the discipline of doing one’s best, of giving 100% every day, enables self-actualization, where one achieves one’s full potential. “You’re the only person who can do that,” he remarks.

Purchase from Amazon: 
From Willard Straight to Wall Street: A Memoir by Thomas W. Jones

No comments:

Post a Comment