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Saturday, March 04, 2006

Who's The Man? Part 1

A while back I made the acquaintance of Bob and Doug, two finance pros who were trying to make good in Japan. Later I hired their boss, who I call The Man. Whatever you may think of me, favorable or not, multiply it by ten for The Man.

Here’s the story:


Doug

Doug was highlighted in a book about the heyday of Asian investment banking where he rode the elevator up, and partway down. During that ride, he invested eye-popping sums of money in The Man. Use-Benjamins-as-toilet-paper sums of money. Wallpaper-your-office-building-with-Benjamins sums of money. Scrooge-McDuck’s-swimming-pool-full-of-Benjamins sums of money. Let’s just say he handled a lot of money.

And he did it with balls. Brass balls just shy the size (and possibly texture) of coconuts that he’d swing around and occasionally bludgeon his testicular-challenged prey, aw, just for the hell of it. Playing with dangerous tools like phantom debt, leverage, and beta hedging — at that time the finance world’s version of juggling chainsaws — he made and threw away fortunes like a Chinese bakery. He left a litter of formerly-human successes and burn outs behind him, some still twitching and clutching their sadly withered gonads.

Fortunately Doug got off the Asian finance elevator before it crashed on the basement floor. After spending some time on an island in Southeast Asia cultivating a personal collection of melanomas, he was convinced to invest and join in a new endeavor, led by The Man himself. Unaccustomed to the envy problem he had with the indigenous coconut trees, he decided to go back to the land of the hardly endowed and easily cowed.

So Doug did this for a couple of years. He’s having fun. Sure, the rules are tighter but the gals are looser, and though the money is harder to find, everthing else is easier to find... and intimidate. And that’s what Doug likes to do... be King of the World. Or at least Duke Nukem.

Then one day he gets a call from The Man. One of The Man’s mentors has recommended he meet a certain Sigmund Fuller, “Mr. F,” but is vague on specifics. There may be a deal in the works, a very big deal. Mr. F has huge backers, but nobody can seem to get a read on him. Can Doug check this guy out?

No problem for Doug. He does a quick testicular self-examination. Yep, no problem at all.


Bob

Bob is a the junior fellow. He looks like he’s just finished skiing from Finland by way of Siberia — about as Nordic as they come — but he speaks Japanese better than a native. He is a calm guy. Once upon a time he was a trader, but he’s one of the rare breed that made the cross over to a true deal man.

Sang froid? They say after years in trading his blood pressure never gets in the triple digits. Others say it never even gets into the double digits, that you could tear his arms off and he’d stay focused on the deal, so focused that he wouldn’t even bleed. The ideal companion to spot for a chainsaw juggler.

Bob didn’t make out as well as Doug and doesn’t want to retired on a measly investment income of a half million a year, so he still has to work. But he’s paid the big bucks for closing deals in one of the most patience-trying markets for deals: Asia. If there’s a deal to be had, he’s going to have it. Doug may take the lead with the chainsaws, clearing the trail and hacking down the unwary obstacle or passerby, but Bob will be right there behind him with the bulldozer, clearcutting everything else... just to make sure. Why leave anything to chance?


Doug and Bob have done their diligence. Enough about Mr. F is discoverable on paper, but very little about who he really is or what he is doing. Is his success his own? Is it luck? Is it skill? Is it staff? What kind of person is Mr. F? Cautious investor? Reckless entrepeneur?

Bob and Doug aren’t nervous about meeting Mr. F. After all, they are working for The Man. And The Man is, well, The Man!

Was that not a helpful description? Well, okay... here’s what I knew of The Man:

The Man is part of the Finance Pantheon of Asia, a God. Not only does The Man’s shit not smell, he shits refined platinum bricks. When The Man breathes his body just strips out extra O2 and exhales carbon in the form of diamond dust. He hires people to follow him around, collect his waste, and sell it on eBay. Yes, that’s right, with the help of free markets, the man turns the very air and food he consumes into cash-covertable commodities. There’s even a song about The Man. He raised and destroyed entire country economies in the go-go days of Asian finance. Why? Because he’s The Man.

So Bob and Doug knew The Man... but who was Mr. F?

(continued in part 2)

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