Holiday Wonder

Stevie Wonder (Photo Credit: Vikie Rubinson)

About a year ago, I was on a trip in the northern region of India when my raft carrying eight travelers from various parts of the world capsized in a murky, foul-smelling, bone-chilling Class-5 rapid.  During the tortuous two kilometer ride through the churning water (the rapid was known as the Black Cobra, which should have been a hint) all I could think about was: “Keep your head up!” and “Breathe in more air than water!”  Seems simple enough, but at the time the basics of survival seemed more elusive than I would have liked.  In retrospect, this experience prepared me for what was to unfold in 2009.
I’m a big proponent of the theory that by challenging adversity one can yield extraordinary outcomes.  We often see this in the heroes we all admire – whether it’s sports, business, architecture or music – many of our idols, in addition to their extraordinary talents, usually have some story of struggle that prepared them for great achievement.  And often it’s just the sheer will to press on that propels them into another dimension.
We all pressed forward in 2009, and with the help and determination of colleagues, friends and family, we kept our heads up and carried on.  And like the moment when I was yanked out of the water by a crazy hippy Irishman, I can now breathe more easily as I prepare for 2010.  While I don’t know what lies ahead, I do somehow know that in an odd way I’m better equipped now that another good, hard fight is behind me.
Yesterday, Stevie Wonder was in our building lobby.  A few of us casually found ourselves in his general vicinity hoping to catch a closer glance.  Knowing that Mr. Wonder is one of Roger Pondel’s heroes, we took the initiative to speak with him and minutes later found ourselves escorting the musical genius to our office to meet Roger (we now know that he has a wonderful sense of humor and enjoys a good prank or two).  For the first time in the history of the firm, Roger was speechless.
In a curious way, this crowning event seemed a fitting way to end the year.  It was surprising, inspiring, humbling and downright funny.  It also reminded me that every treacherous path has its bright spots.  Happy Holidays!  See you down the road.



2009 Top Ten

What a year it’s been.  Although it’s not quite over yet, there are many things to look back upon.  Some good, some definitely not so good, but in all, very interesting and impactful.
Here is the top ten, in no particular order:

  1. Bernie Madoff – Although this scandal actually began in late 2008, its ramifications rocked the financial world throughout 2009.

  2. Galleon GroupHedge fund insider trading; an investor relations firm; a top tier law firm…this case had it all.

  3. Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) – Meant to stabilize the crumbling financial system, the program, which also launched in late 2008, had a wide ranging affect on executive pay and recruiting within the financial services industry in 2009.

  4. Tiger Woods – While not a financial story per se, we all got a glimpse into how not to manage a crisis.

  5. David Letterman – While also not a financial story per se, we all got a glimpse into how to manage a crisis.

  6. Black Friday – While more shoppers turned out for the busiest shopping day of the season, it was not all cheer for retailers as consumers spent less and favored lower-cost items.

  7. Bank reform – In mid-December, the House passed a sweeping bank reform bill to prevent another major financial meltdown.  It requires banks and Wall Street firms to pay into an emergency fund, and creates the first ever Consumer Financial Protection Agency to regulate credit cards and mortgages.

  8. Mortgage Meltdown – Tied inextricably to number six on this list, banks risky lending practices resulted in chaos for consumers and the financial markets.

  9. Unemployment – The national unemployment rate now stands at 10%, but recent data shows that during the week ended December 5, we saw the 14th straight decline in claims and the lowest level since September 2008.

  10. Stock Market Rebound – Through late November from March 9 (the low point of the bear market), the Dow Jones industrial average climbed 63%; the S&P 500 rose 61%; and the Nasdaq grew 72%. Year-to-date, the Dow has yielded a 23% return, (including reinvested dividends); the S&P 500, 25%; and the Nasdaq, more than 37%.

Happy holidays to all.  May 2010 be productive, prolific and profitable.


Laurie Berman,



Scroogenomics by Joel Waldfogel

It’s early December, so my annual nervous breakdown over shopping for friends and family is right on schedule.
What to buy?  How about gift cards for everyone?  Practical, but rather impersonal. That pretty much sums up my personality.
How about jewelry for my wife? Personal? Yes. Practical? Hardly. Really, aren’t 6,485 pairs of earrings enough?
Here’s an idea. How about nothing? Now, before you pass judgment there is actually some sound financial science behind this idea put forward recently by Joel Waldfogel, author of Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn’t Buy Presents for the Holidays.
Waldfogel isn’t some Grinch dumping lumps of coal into stockings, he is an economic guru as the chair of business and public policy at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. In a recent Time Magazine interview, Waldfogel says he objects to holiday spending because “it doesn’t result in very much satisfaction.”  Really? I still remember the electric football set I got when I was 8 years old. Of course, I can’t really remember any present since, so maybe Waldfogel is right.
Waldfogel elaborates further that, “Normally if I spend $50 on myself, I’ll only buy something if it’s worth at least $50 to me. But if you buy something for me, and you spend $50, since you don’t know what I like, and you don’t know what I have, you may buy something I wouldn’t pay anything for. And so you could turn the real resources required to make things into something of no value to me. And that would destroy value.”  Hmm, I wonder if that logic will work on my wife and kids?
Waldfogel does promote gifts cards, gift certificates and giving to charities as practical alternatives for the holiday season.  One gift Waldfogel probably wouldn’t mind people giving each other is a copy of his book.
In honor of Scrooge, I’ll wait for the paperback version.


Ron Neal,