Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Masters of the Universe

The Times reports on a recent dinner hosted by Institutional Investor.

NYTimes: Not since Michael Milken’s Predators’ Ball in the 1980’s have so many of Wall Street’s bold-faced names dared to mingle together. Until last night.

Institutional Investor, the first trade magazine to cover Wall Street, celebrated its 40th birthday Monday by throwing itself a party at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. Masters of the Universe from around the nation and the world flew in for the event. There was Henry Kravis, seated next to Jean-Claude Trichet, president of the European Central Bank. Across the way was Mr. Milken himself, whom Mr. Kravis praised in a brief speech for helping to create the modern private equity industry.

Mr. Milken didn’t make a speech to the crowd, but he circulated among them and seemed to take pleasure at being surrounded by so many of what he referred to DealBook as his “disciples.”

Also on hand was James D. Wolfensohn, former president of the World Bank. John C. Bogle, the founder of the Vanguard Group, mingled during the cocktail hour with other luminaries such as John Whitehead, the former chairman of Goldman Sachs, credited with creating the securities firm’s vaunted culture.

John Thornton, the former president of Goldman Sachs, who now splits his time between New York and Beijing, also attended, as did Joseph L. Rice III, co-founder of the private equity firm Clayton, Dubilier & Rice.

James Simons, founder of Renaissance Technologies, one of the most successful “quant” hedge funds in history, mixed with younger hedge fund managers such as William Ackman, the activist investor, and David Einhorn of Greenlight Capital.

Perhaps the highlight of the evening was when Mr. Kravis jokingly apologized to his peers in the audience for charging his investors 20 percent of profits in 1976, which became a benchmark for private equity and hedge funds. He said that, at the time, there was no going rate, so he and his partners decided 20 percent was fair. In retrospect, he said with a laugh, “You could have gotten 25 percent.”

The room burst out laughing.

Then Mr. Simons of Renaissance took the stage. He famously takes more than 40 percent of all profits from his fund investors. “We blissfully ignored” the benchmark Mr. Kravis created, he said.

Mr. Simons also explained how the summer’s credit crunch caused his fund briefly to lose 8.7 percent in only a few days ––”a remarkable amount of money,” he said nonchalantly — though it later rebounded. At the time, he wrote a note to his investors about the losses, observing with a laugh that it took a couple of “gin and tonics to get that letter out.”

He went on to jokingly taunt Mr. Kravis into buying his firm. “If he wants to buy my company for $30 billion, I’m going to make it damn easy for him,” Mr. Simons said.

From the comments:

This convention was made up of people who sacrificed their personal lives to use their extreme intellects and incredible work ethics to strive to be the best in their fields. This is exactly what America was built on and should be what keeps us going forward. We as a country should reward winners, but instead we encourage mediocrity with the whole “everyone is a winner, everyone is great” mentality. Congratulations to those invited to this great event and if you really don’t like it then work harder to change the system, but that does mean actually working which you may not be inclined to do.
— Posted by Eric


Why are people assuming these people make money by plundering society? Jim Simons makes money as fairly and squarely as anyone in the world. Anyone can do what he does…if they come up with the magic formula. There’s nothing unfair about that, and it does society a world of good. The huge creation of wealth around the world is largely due to capital being deployed to its most productive use. What are masters of the universe but the “central planners” of the free market — the better the job they do, the more money they make, and the richer we all become.
— Posted by James

2 comments:

tc said...

"The huge creation of wealth around the world is largely due to capital being deployed to its most productive use."

I don't agree with this guy - the biggest driver of wealth creation since the Industrial Revolution is technological and scientific advance. Proper deployment of capital drives some of that, of course - but the capitalists shouldn't get too big-headed about it.

steve said...

I'm not saying I agree with the comments. But they do reveal a worldview and state of mind :-)

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