So there’s this guy. A mild-mannered professor who retired a decade ago and decided he would serve as an independent director of this new booming financial product called a CDO. He collected a few thousand bucks a year for basically signing some documents. Sounded like a decent gig and a good way to make some extra pocket change.
Fast forward to 2010. Most CDOs are near-worthless, but the retired professor, Donald Puglisi, had managed to get himself appointed as independent director for over 200 CDOs including Goldman’s famed Abacus CDO. As long as the CDOs are on life-support, they still pay out fees to Professor Don. In fact, he probably collects a cool $400,000 a year in fees from the CDOs and that doesn’t include the 100 or so CLOs in which he serves as an independent director.
Clearly, the professor is reveling in the fact that he’s probably got the best job in the world.
On a recent warm day in May, Puglisi, dressed casually in shorts, sneakers and a short-sleeve shirt, made no apologies for making money off badly tarnished securities that have become synonymous with big bank write-downs.
Seated in a chair in his small office in Newark, Delaware, a lively college town, Puglisi still sounds a little bit like a believer in the financial alchemy that Wall Street banks used to turn subprime mortgages into supposedly Triple A-rated securities.
"I don't think the CDO market caused the crash in housing prices or the mortgage market," said Puglisi, whose four-person shop, Puglisi and Associates, serves as an independent director to roughly 500 Delaware-based structured finance companies. "The deterioration in the housing and mortgage markets would have happened even if there had never been a CDO market."