Meredith Whitney’s got a new book out so you’ve been seeing her virtually everywhere over the last couple of weeks. The media tour included a Lunch with the FT piece, which got more candid than most outlets.
Whitney made a really big, outside-the-box call on Citi before the Credit Crisis that was proven to have been right on the money – even though she took a ton of heat for it at the time. This gave her the profile with which to launch her own firm – but her success had also made her a target as success so often does. And when her follow-up big call – about the drastic state of municipal finance – turned out to have been a bit hyperbolic, the chattering classes were quick to turn on her.
The tough part of making “The Big Call” is following it up with another one – which is what the public lives for. Elaine Garzarelli learned this a generation ago after failing to capitalize on the big 1987 prediction.
Lucy Kellaway’s entire discussion with the controversial analyst is worth a read, but I particularly liked this bit about how Whitney deals with the haters:
“It feels good to me to be nice. It’s a return-on-investment deal. I get so much more out of the day when I’m nice to people. You get paid off in spades that way, it’s incredible.”
I’m slightly nonplussed by this. Is she suggesting I try the same return-on-investment deal myself? Or is she helping me out with my analysis of her? Whatever the reason, I say this niceness isn’t what one expects from someone famous for bearish calls.
“It was math, it wasn’t personal. Some people make all this stuff personal and it’s not.”
And yet the way people have gone for her has been very personal indeed. They’ve made death threats. They call out mockingly in the street.
“It’s nasty. If someone does that to me, I have the ability of never knowing their name again, I don’t care about them, and they’re still walking around in their shoes.”
As the waiter removes the halibut into which she’s made the feeblest of inroads, I put my theory to her that the market is as bad at valuing analysts as it is at valuing stocks. Whitney looks blank. So I say she has been a victim of this: the “oracle” and the “lobotomy” ratings are equally daft.
“I’m not a victim,” she replies. “I’m grateful that I’ve got name recognition – not since then has there been anyone with name recognition. Analysts are not really a sexy community.”
I have a similar strategy of dealing with those who hurl invective and bullshit in my direction (thankfully, I have many fewer detractors than Ms. Whitney). I block them on Twitter and blacklist their IP addresses without even thinking twice. They tend to be anonymous little pussies anyway – why pay them the compliment of allowing them to exist in my world?
The idea that we can put out more positivity in the world and be rewarded for it karmically is nothing new – but it does work in actual practice. It’s not magic, it’s just the way human beings tend to respond to kindness versus nastiness.