Trusting the Street . . . Or Any CEO


(This picture is mine . . . taken in Paris behind Les Halles. I find it gentle and thoughtful.)

I wonder if popular trust in business may be taking a bad rap. Or, rather, I would ask the question whether our current lack of faith -- or trust -- in Wall Street, Bay Street, the U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke and our own Canadian financial leaders is in danger of being projected on to any business leader who misses a forecast or suffers a poor quarter?

Writing today in The Globe and Mail, columnist Derek DeCloet says:

"In 2008, skeptics, doomsayers and non-believers on Wall Street and Bay Street were vindicated. This was not because the wizards of finance proved to be corrupt or dishonest (though there were enough accusations of that - Bernard Madoff's alleged monstrous Ponzi scheme being merely the worst). Nor was it because the Street's paid gurus made big mistakes. Errant forecasts by professional soothsayers are expected. What was so surprising is that the people closer to the action - the ones at the top of the world's largest banks and corporations - proved, time and again, to have so little idea of what was just around the corner. Most of them wildly underestimated the depth of the financial rot and economic dysfunction. Publicly, they appeared too complacent, especially before September." 

DeCloet is, of course, right about the surprising lack of foresight (although some say it is willful "blindness" in the face of friends all around them making astonishing money) among financial leaders in North America and Europe.

But we should be careful not to attribute this same obduracy to CEOs in other sectors who have a good sense of their competitive and market frameworks, who look clearly at the impact of exogenous factors like commodity prices and currency fluctuations and who, therefore, revise forecasts more frequently than shareholders might like.

If they are forthright, honest and clear in their analysis, humble about what they don't know or can't predict, and willing to shoulder responsibility for what they can control (and bypass the rich bonus when they fail), then they and their companies are deserving of our trust. And, perhaps humility about what is unknown, and candor in the expression of that ignorance, is something the wizards of Wall Street -- and many politicians -- can learn from the best leaders in the manufacturing and commodity sectors.

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