Fake News: Former execs still keeping busy

NEW YORK (April 7) – Titans of corporate America who have lost their jobs in the current economic downturn may have their golden parachutes to keep them financially secure, but for men whose hard-driving work ethic no longer has an outlet, the transition to retirement can be difficult.

Some of them are taking on new careers that may not provide the monetary incentives they’re used to, yet still put a sense of purpose into their days. We tracked down several of these former masters of the universe to see how they are surviving as, at most, the night manager of a star.

Or, in the case of former General Motors chief executive Rick Wagoner, a Starbucks.

Since his highly visible ouster last month by President Obama, the 30-year GM veteran was able to get on as a second-shift barista at a midtown New York coffee shop. His drive to come up with innovative solutions to satisfy customers seems to be serving him well in his new position.

“Even though my experience is mostly executive, I’ve always had a keen interest in both R&D and in sales,” Wagoner said in an interview during his 15-minute smoke break. “I’m trying to put some new ideas out there so my supervisor might recognize my talent and move me to first shift.”

Wagoner has been suggesting new products that have met some initial resistance from customers. He believes, though, that if the company will continue to offer the products, they will eventually become a success in the marketplace.

“I think I have a pretty good idea of what Americans want from my days at GM,” Wagoner said. “So I’m pushing three new product lines: hot toddies, sassafras soda-pop and, as a seasonal offering for the upcoming summer months, a thick, steaming-hot cup of heavy cream.”

Wagoner said that although he’s learned a valuable lesson from his experience offering car buyers mostly SUVs and Hummers as gas prices soared over $4 a gallon, he’s not going to stray from his core belief that people have to be told what they want.

“I had a guy just an hour ago who begged and begged for a tall light mocha no whip, but I wasn’t going to give in,” Wagoner said. “I was determined to sell him the hot toddy. He finally stormed out and said he was going for some green tea at the Japanese place next door. He’ll be back. Just you wait. You’ll see.”

Meanwhile, across town at an east-side convenience store/gas station, former Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain was sharing a late-night shift with co-worker Habeeb Alawi. Thain worked the cash register behind a thick pane of bullet-proof glass while Alawi hosed down the pavement and watched for drive-offs outside.

Thain famously lost his job at the iconic Wall Street investment firm shortly after it was acquired by Bank of America. Stories soon emerged about Thain’s extravagant spending habits while at Merrill, including over $1 million to redecorate his office.

“I learned some hard lessons in that experience, but I think I’ve come out of it a wiser man,” Thain said through a small metal vent in the glass. “Your priorities definitely change when you’re making $9.50 an hour.”

Thain said that he still enjoys the finer things in life, and that he’s dipped into the $83 million salary he earned in 2007 to make his current work a little more comfortable. The rubber mat he stands on for six hours a day is about twice as thick as standard issue, and he’s gilded the edges with ermine fur and gold plating. And the small cubby hole back behind the men’s room where he stashes his coat and other personal belongings is padded with thick Irish leather infused with a fine Italian cologne that helps disguise the smell of stale urine nearby.

“I like keeping busy here and, who knows, maybe this will lead to an executive position in the energy business,” Thain said.

“Hey, I saw you put that candy in your pocket! Put back the damn candy before I come out there and rip your arm off,” he said to a customer. “I said, put the … Oh, no! No, don’t shoot! Don’t kill me! Please!”

Finally, we caught up with former Lehman Brothers chief Richard Fuld, whose investment firm imploded after a series of highly complex financial transactions fell apart last fall. Fuld is working 15 hours a week at the front counter at McDonald’s on Times Square but soon hopes to increase his hours to 20.

In between working the cash register and handing out bags of burgers and fries, Fuld talked about how he hopes to turn his current labor into a new business model that could employ some of the wheeling and dealing techniques he perfected on Wall Street.

“What we could do is offer customers the option to buy a Big Mac for about a quarter of what the actual burger costs, then if our prices go up later, they can cash out the option and make a profit on their fast-food purchase,” Fuld said. “We could sell French fry futures and McNugget derivatives, which would allow us to charge a fee for the transaction itself, then put that money into convertible debt obligations and leverage these to position ourselves in the commercial paper market for sausage and cheese McGriddles with no egg.”

Fuld said he hasn’t yet been successful explaining his plan to his boss, franchisee Desai Muktananda, but will keep trying.

“I guess maybe there’s a bit of a language barrier there,” Fuld said. “I don’t think his English is good enough for him to understand when I talk about the notional value of forward hedging and off-balance-sheet swaptions.”

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6 Responses to “Fake News: Former execs still keeping busy”

  1. Stan Says:

    Great stuff. 🙂

  2. jj Says:

    Great blog. Funny stuff. Onion’s got nothing on you.

    Have you seen this? How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else (Paperback) by Michael Gates Gill.

    🙂

  3. stinginthetail Says:

    i had to keep reminding myself it wasn’t real *shivers* seems as plausible as anything else, lol

  4. InActionMan IAM Says:

    Judging by the rage out there over these banking folk and other former captains of the financial industry, it might become real. Instead of prison or community service, they could be condemmed to stretch in McDonalds, but as Davis points out, their former selves would come to the surface:
    “Would you like any toxic debt with your fries, madam?”
    “Can I supersize your negative equity, sir?”
    And on and on

  5. lawchick Says:

    Hee hee. I like this.

  6. InActionMan IAM Says:

    Inspired by your piece, I came up with this:
    http://tinyurl.com/bankerbumcuisine

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