A few weeks ago we reported on the anti-golf sentiments of Carl Icahn and Hank Greenberg. For both men, golf seems to signal a kind of vice for executives. Someone who is really dedicated to their job shouldn’t have time for America’s most popular pasttime, both men said at the Wall Street Journal’s Deals and Dealmakers conference.
We wonder what they’d say in a candid moment about Bear Stearns chief executive Jimmy Cayne’s golfing. Yesterday New York Times reporter Patrick McGeehan revealed that at ciritical moments during Bear Stearns hedge fund crisis last month, Cayne again and again hit the links.
On June 14, the day when Bear Stearns reported a 10 percent drop in its operating earnings for the second quarter, Mr. Cayne played a round and shot a 96, his scores on the online database, GHIN.com, indicate. The next day, a Friday, he played again.
On Thursday, June 21, as several big banks pressured Bear Stearns to increase the collateral on loans they had made to its sinking fund, Mr. Cayne was back on the course. That day, he shot a 98.
The next day, in the biggest rescue of a hedge fund in almost a decade, Bear Stearns pledged to put up $3.2 billion to bail out its fund. (It later said that $1.6 billion would suffice.) Then the remarkably consistent Mr. Cayne played golf, shooting a 97.
No doubt the short item in the times will rankle some investors in the two troubled hedge funds, and perhaps Bear Stearns shareholders, who are inclined to read the story as demonstrating that Cayne is an out-of-touch executive. Brad Bissonnette at BloggingStocks has already sounded the expectedly annoyed note.
“Immersing yourself in a hobby, such as gardening or golf, can often be an excellent way to relieve stress and work-related anxiety,” Bissonnette writes. “But if you're a shareholder of Bear Stearns who has just witnessed the collapse of a hedge fund requiring that the company put up $1.6 billion to bail it out, you might prefer that the CEO would spend some extra time at the office.”
But the story also seems to be calling up the opposite reaction from some. For them it seems that the tale of Cayne golfing has had a humanizing effect, painting the executive as a normal person who ends the week the way many American men do. “Is it possible to help manage through a crisis and still get eighteen holes in after five p.m.? I don't think McGeehan wanted to know--it could have spoiled his clever story,” John Caddell writes on his blog. “I'm rooting for Cayne here. Maybe he's more than a big-shot prima donna who lands his helicopter on the practice range. Maybe he's figured out a way to get some balance in his life.”
Perhaps the most interesting response came from Tom Kirkendell of Houston’s Real Clear Thinkers who wonders if maybe everyone involved shouldn’t be grateful that Cayne was playing golf instead of managing the hedge fund situation from his desk at Bear. “Cayne's handicap index is 15.9, so his scores during that stressful time certainly ballooned a bit higher than normal. But think how bad this could have gotten for Bear Stearns if Cayne had not been able to get his golf therapy,” says Kirkendell.
Meltdown Didn’t Hurt His Golf Game [New York Times]