May 10, 2012

Unparalleled Access

By Ken F. T'12

In today's FSIA class (an elective in which students perform fundamental financial and strategic analysis on companies to decide whether individual stocks are worth investing in), the industry under review was media and entertainment. We had two visitors in class to hear and give feedback on student presentations about their companies: the head of Investor Relations at CBS and the head of Business Development at News Corporation. Such opportunities to interact with senior executives are commonplace at Tuck, and it's hard not to take them for granted.

In my two years here, I've been fortunate enough to have lunch with Mickey Drexler, CEO of J-Crew, and dinner with Alessandro Varisco, CEO of Moschino. I've spoken with Frank Blake, CEO of The Home Depot, and John Bello, founder of SoBe Beverages. Within the space of a month, I was in boardrooms in three of America's most iconic buildings: 9 W. 57th (New York), the John Hancock tower (Boston) and the Transamerica Pyramid (San Francisco). I've heard intimate talks from the current and future Presidents of the World Bank and a former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, been in a room with all the Republican presidential candidate hopefuls and their advisors, and shared laughs with founders of some of the world's most successful private equity firms and hedge funds.

Next week is my last week of classes at Tuck, and the guest I've been most excited to meet is coming to school on Tuesday: Gordon Brown, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. My first economics class started in August 1997, three months after Mr. Brown became Chancellor of the Exchequer. He won massive plaudits for his decisions to give independence to the Bank of England and to keep Great Britain out of the Euro - both of which were astoundingly prescient moves. He has also been credited with playing a pivotal international role in ensuring that governments around the globe provided the stimulus required to prevent an absolute financial meltdown in 2009, and thus to prevent economic Armageddon.

And yet, he has many strong critics. He was famous for saying from his earliest days in government until it no longer passed the laugh test that he and his colleagues had ended boom and bust. Today, this seems completely absurd. But, when I took my first economics class aged 13 years old and the Chancellor was making such claims, it was hard to discount them entirely. When I bought my first apartment in early 2005, he had done a great deal to bolster the belief held by many Brits that housing prices could only go in one direction - up. My apartment has roughly held its value since then. Many others have been less fortunate. Did Mr. Brown help create the catastrophe whose damage he later helped to limit?

He is also a fascinating leader to study. He has an incredible intellect and an infamously short fuse. He is not a politician designed for the 24 hour news cycle world of sound bytes, yet he held two of the top three jobs in British politics for a combined 13 years, very much the formative years in my life. His life has not been without serious challenges: he grew up with modest means in a small town in Fife, Scotland as the son of a Presbyterian minister, has one glass eye as a result of a rugby accident, and had an infant daughter die while he was Chencellor. Yet, he rose through the ranks of a left-wing political party to become a formidable player in international affairs. His visit to Tuck comes almost exactly two years after he lost the election that ended his premiership. I am delighted that he is coming and can scarcely contain my excitement for his talk.