Gustavo Ballvé on March 9th, 2010
Corporate Governance, Food for thought, Home, Investment Themes, Portfolio Management

Updated on March 19th, 2010 (see a new video inside)

There’s lots of interesting content in Amazon.com’s launch page for “No One Would Listen”, the book by Harry Markopolos – the main whistleblower in the Bernie Madoff saga. The timeline in particular is very impressive: it shows that all in all it took ten years to uncover the mess – nine since the first contact with the SEC – by which time the problem was irreversible. And that’s far from the only case, which begs a question…

Apart from the “I want/ need to believe”-type mental traps that individuals fall into, how do we justify still having institutions supposed to keep watch so unready and unwilling to investigate red flags? Lack of funding, qualified personnel, IT infrastructure… they all seem like weak arguments even put together.

We won’t go into the Taleb argument that one must be highly skeptical of “results”, and let’s not recall the Bob Rubin “focus on processes, not outcomes” (great) advice. Let’s just highlight two other books on fraud or lack of oversight – one caught, one still perhaps on the loose.

The most Madoff-like story is David Einhorn’s Fooling Some of The People All of The Time, about his years-long struggle with Allied Capital. Again, the pattern of ignored warnings is troubling, and while the story eventually played out to Mr. Einhorn’s thesis (see the 5-yr chart here), it wasn’t due to regulatory action – the credit crisis almost did the company in.

The other book is a quick read – Barry Minkow’s Cleaning Up – about ZZZZ Best, the company he founded and took public as one of the youngest persons ever to do that (remember that this is quite pre-dot.com days!). Nice story, if it wasn’t all a Ponzi scheme, and one that also took a while to uncover. Since this account is in first person and Mr. Minkow later helped the FBI uncover several corporate frauds, it’s pretty interesting lore. We’ve watched the guy live in the first Value Investing Congress and he’s a decent speaker as well.

UPDATE (March 19th, 2010): Nice and funny video interview with Mr. Markopolos on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Harry Markopolos
www.thedailyshow.com
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