Day 24 – John Thain @ HBS

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John Thain, the last CEO of Merrill Lynch was at HBS today for a lecture.  Packed auditorium with faculty, MBA students and Exec education students.  John is an accomplished man with a stellar career at Goldman Sachs, CEO of NYSE and finally the CEO of Merrill Lynch.  He negotiated the sale of Merrill to Bank of America at a 70% premium over market price.  The last part of his tenure (he ‘quit’ on Jan 22, 2009) was marred by controversy and fall from grace.  Even President Obama has referred to his excesses on office furniture (rugs, chairs, credenza and a commode 🙂 for a total of ~$320K)

He answered a lot of interesting questions about regulation on Wall Street, ‘what went wrong?’, Bonus payments owed by Bank of America to Merrill employees etc.  Needless to say many in the audience were itching to ask him about his spending of office renovation.  The sixth question was from an attractive young MBA student (she had been raising her hand from the get go but got picked later) about this spending.

His answer which according to me was lame (basically leads one of believe that if there was no financial crisis, the expense would be justified) is in the video below.  Please bear with me on the video and audio quality but this was a large auditorium.

Video taken out – against Harvard Policy and I respect that

I am quite puzzled by his last comment ‘A commode is not a toilet’ but Mr. Thain, I thank you for the education.  I looked up Webster and found this:

Pronunciation: \kə-ˈmōd\

Function: noun

1 : a woman’s ornate cap popular in the late 17th and early 18th centuries

2 a : a low chest of drawers b : a movable washstand with a cupboard underneath c : a boxlike structure holding a chamber pot under an open seat; also : chamber pot d : toilet

So I have now expanded my definition of the word commode.

I owe you an apology Mr. Thain.  I am guilty of what you charge the press with but guess what as you know sensation sells – maybe the readership of my blog will go up 🙂


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