CNBCfix review: Greed is not good in Goodbye Gordon Gekko

          Posted: Monday, May 31, 2010

Anthony Scaramucci's Goodbye Gordon Gekko is refreshingly optimistic and down-to-earth. As a personal story, however, it's fair to say Scaramucci is more than a little bit hedged.

Scaramucci introduces himself as someone credentialed enough to be chosen as a technical adviser for Oliver Stone's "Wall Street" sequel, and as one who coincidentally has witnessed a number of greedy types who continue to muck up the magnificent wealth-creation system that is Wall Street.

Who those people are, and how widespread they are, is unclear. What is crystal clear is Scaramucci's love of mentoring. He devotes many of his 208 pages to it. His aspirations here are resoundingly sincere. He hit it big, and he hasn't forgotten who helped him. Goodbye Gordon Gekko could be viewed as an extended thank-you note to those who were kind, and wise, enough to give him a chance. Scaramucci concedes that despite his wealth, he can't ever adequately repay these people; thus, "pay it forward" is a phrase seen a couple of times, and in this book it is not merely lip service.

Scaramucci does have something of an impressive everyman quality. But the everyman doesn't attend Harvard Law and doesn't work for Goldman Sachs and isn't a big shot on Wall Street and doesn't work next to obnoxious colleagues with 2 summer homes. Thus his core audience is unfortunately a tiny one: motivated hotshots, perhaps even still in college, who already pull in 7 figures or have the ability to do so. People who have already become successful. People who have no trouble making a living but might deal with the problem of feeling good about it.

The masses rarely are confronted with the problem of making too much money and are unlikely to find themselves in the same offices or social circles as the would-be Masters of the Universe. Nevertheless, there is an implied understanding in this book that we've all seen these people, if not at work then occasionally at family reunions, high-end restaurants, trendy nightclubs, golf courses, museums, the civic orchestra, art galleries, etc. These are the Gordon Gekkos of the world, determined to have more money than their friends and colleagues and relatives, and exploiting anyone in their path whom they can finagle a buck out of. Scaramucci wants you to know, don't be these guys. And then you will win.

It's admirable that Scaramucci draws a decided line between this book and material that would be regarded as "self-help." This is simple, unimpeachable advice about being a better person, largely from 8 to 5, though he does suggest volunteering and serving as a youth coach. A key element to the rat race goes is not addressed by Scaramucci: Whether he works a punishing 70 hours a week to achieve his success, or merely 50.

A jerk is a jerk. Is there any chance the system is to blame? One of the problems of the rat race is the annuity-like demands on our income. Being handed $5 million today doesn't pay the mortgage, property taxes, airfare, grocery bill and housekeeper expenses 5 years from now. Humans need not a pile of money at one moment, but a healthy stream of money forever. To just maintain our standard of living, let alone feel successful, that stream must constantly rise. Is it good for people like Scaramucci that they can earn $1 million before turning 30? It can be inferred that many of Scaramucci's early colleagues would be hurting if they were now being paid only $250,000 a year. Such a world.

While relevant to the general public, the book's do-good material lacks a pop-culture hook that would find a broad audience. Enter Gordon Gekko. The title is instant proof that Scaramucci has serious savvy in the marketing department.

A naturally generic — and completely accurate — title would be something like Anthony Scaramucci's Guide to Success. But Scaramucci explains that he decided to write the book after breakfast with Oliver Stone, a meeting that presented him with this grabber of a title. The last 2 words are bound to draw a larger audience than Scaramucci would otherwise receive.

Because Scaramucci does make adequate references to "Wall Street," and to Gordon Gekko, there is no bait-and-switch here. However, those people (and there probably will be many) picking up the title expecting extensive commentary on the movie will be disappointed and would be better served by the 2,487-word review of the film at this site. The film is more complicated than Scaramucci reveals. His references to specific scenes are not inaccurate, but rarely enlightening, and are the least convincing elements of the book.

If Scaramucci weren't interested in tapping Gordon Gekko, he could've instead tried Why leaving Goldman Sachs was the right move. Those trained in psychology might be able to discern if Scaramucci wrote this book seeking to put to bed any lingering doubts he might've had about leaving Goldman Sachs to start his own firm. It doesn't feel that way. He is refreshingly candid about his expectations, the reality of his experience and his motivation to leave.

Scaramucci writes it was his "passion" to run his own firm, an "unrelenting desire to own my own business." He allows there were 2 other more tangible reasons: "There was no guarantee I wasn't going to get bounced again," and the "personality-ectomy" at Goldman demanding conformity that he was unable or unwilling to fully provide.

It's possible there are regrets. Because he rarely mentions his compensation, it is up to the reader to guess whether he made gobs more money by leaving Goldman, or less. He notes, when leaving Goldman to launch Oscar Capital in 1996, his $1 million-plus salary was reduced to $240,000. Given his stature today, he presumably did better by leaving, though it is probably not wise to underestimate Goldman Sachs. Scaramucci writes that retired Goldman legend Richard Menschel told him, "Anthony you will love us more after you leave us, especially after a few years have gone by," and Scaramucci concludes, "He was so right."

He also writes, "Fred Smith, the founder of FedEx, once said if he knew how hard it was going to be to be an entrepreneur he would probably have never tried it. Amen to that."

Scaramucci has a great story of his own to tell. He just doesn't tell enough of it. The regular Joes will wonder what he did to earn a fortune besides opening accounts. Does he merely pick stocks? Readers will note the lack of business specifics but an abundance of quotes from famous authors. It is not until Page 115 that Scaramucci writes, "A big percentage of my educational, professional, and even personal success can be attributed to reading so many different publications and books." That's long after he references H.L. Mencken, Mark Twain, Tom Wolfe, Bill George, Peter E. Sims, William Bernstein, Barack Obama (as writer), Jim Collins, Malcolm Gladwell, Charles Dickens, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dale Carnegie, Sholom Aleichem, Peter Benchley, Ernest Hemingway, Herman Melville, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Gene Griessman and Pat Williams. One sort of recalls the Sean Maguire line to Will Hunting, "I can’t learn anything from you I can’t read in some (expletive) book. Unless you wanna talk about you. Who you are. And I’m fascinated. I’m in."

Goodbye is divided into 9 chapters, which are not particularly well-defined. Chapter after chapter tends to flow into each other, almost in stream-of-consciousness fashion, the subject matter not being highly correlated to the chapter topic. References to Goldman Sachs and the greatness of certain visionaries such as John Weinberg and Michael Dell, who is name-dropped on seemingly every other page, are repetitive; by Chapter 7 we are still reading that Goldman is "oozing talent and brains." The book could stand tighter editing, including its unforgivable goof in the 3rd sentence of Page 1 ("hated every minute it of it"), the unconventional use of movie names in ital rather than standard quotes, and lack of simple research that would've correctly spelled the name of the "Wall Street" character Darien.

The need for editing is evident in the advice. It is fair to question if Scaramucci does not overthink his own axioms. They are not particularly catchy. In his concluding chapter, "How to find your fortune without losing your soul," he lists 7 rules. A couple suggest even more rules. They are:

Rule 1: You have to say goodbye
Rule 2: You will be disappointed — in others and in yourself; forgive first, analyze quickly
Rule 3: Keep your ego in check
Rule 4: Be yourself and have fun
Rule 5: Rejoice in the success of others
Rule 6: Give
Rule 7: Target success

Elsewhere, he describes "Ego diseases": The Envyne Flu, The 7-10 Verbal Split Habit, The Windex Disorder, The Island of Elba Syndrome, The Ego Wall Affliction.

He recommends, to conquer those, 1) Keep your ego in check; 2) Treat everyone with respect — everyone; 3) Try the Boy Scout Motto — Be Prepared.

His advice for turning failure into success: 1) Admit it. 2) Set yourself up for success. 3) When rough road appears, you must face your worst fears.

He describes Gekko wannabes as suffering from these ailments: 1) The Harder They Fall Syndrome. 2) The Ninth Circle of Hell: Living with the Devil. 3) The "I Should Have Been a Contender" Syndrome.

Occasionally, but only occasionally, Scaramucci reveals a world view. He mentions the "3% theory," which says 3% of the population (Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela) is pure good; 3% of the population (Stalin, Hitler) is raw evil, and all others are in between. It's only on Page 158 where he will wade into the political pool, and only the very shallow end, complaining that government can't afford the long-term cost of all of the promises it has made, perhaps the most common nonpartisan gripe among Wall Street elites.

He saves his very limited Wall Street firm assessments for the 2 biggest companies that employed him, Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers. His observations here are not the least bit surprising. Goldman is great in every way but one: You have to be a conformist. Lehman was not so great, "inbred," he says, and almost a North Korea of finance, a jealous cadre shunning outsiders and alternative views. He even rubs it in a bit, likening Goldman-Lehman to the New York Yankees-Kansas City Royals: "When you are the Kansas City Royals, you have to realize you are the Kansas City Royals."

There is yet another list, of Scaramucci's Wall Street heroes, that is a fine tribute but feels redundant given the amount of credit heaped on others throughout the text. These heroes are Chris Quackenbush, Robert Matza, Robert Castrignano, Frank Meyer and Joseph E. Robert.

So, how big of a menace to society is "Wall Street"? Scaramucci writes, curiously, that as a second-year law student, "Essentially, my career started the day I saw 'Wall Street.' For many of us who went to work on Wall Street, and who weren't too embarrassed to admit it, that movie had a deep impact on our lives."

His own perspective is refreshing. But 23 years after the film, it doesn't sound like this culture is about to end anytime soon. "Even today," Scaramucci writes, "people still recite the lines, wear the suspenders, and ultimately try to act like its most unsavory character, Gordon Gekko."

This writer once owned a "Mr. Gekko" e-mail address.

Goodbye Gordon Gekko, by Anthony Scaramucci (2010)
Featuring: Oliver Stone, Ivan Boesky, David Molner, Ed Pressman, Eric Kopeloff, John Weinberg, Dick Fuld, John Thain, Sandy Weill, Bill George, Peter E. Sims, Billy Tomasso, Sol Gittleman, John Zarker, Dan Ounjian, Barack Obama, Andrew K. Boszhardt Jr., Jeff Lane, Bob Matza, Tom Wolfe, William Bernstein, H.L. Mencken, John Whitehead, Alan Greenspan, Henry Kissinger, Mark Twain, John Mack, Homer, Jim Collins, Richard Branson, Ross Perot, Alan "Ace" Greenberg, Michael Fascitelli, John F. Kennedy Jr., Bill Clinton, Warren Buffett, Dale Carnegie, Rick Lerner, Joe Gregory, Mike Gelband, Bart McDade, Malcolm Gladwell, Michael J. Fox, Ronald Reagan, Ayn Rand, Cravath Swaine & Moore, Charles Evans Hughes, Charles Dickens, Suzanne Nora Johnson, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, Robin Josephs, Frank Walter, Jeannette Loeb, Kenneth D. Brody, Bill Gruver, Todd Morgan, Steve Ballmer, Maria Shriver, Bobby Shriver, Bill Anders, Michael Dell, Richard Menschel, Bernie Madoff, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Pierre Omidyar, David Henle, Fred Smith, Robert K. Steel, Steve Jobs, Sergey Brin, Larry Page, Jeff Immelt, Li Ka-Shing, Moses Tsang, Cheung Chi Keung, Mao Tse-tung, Chris Quackenbush, Jacob Marley Foundation, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Michael Bloomberg, John McNulty, Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Phil McGraw, Al Gore, Sholom Aleichem, Theodore Griffin, Howard Cosell, Tom Hanks, Peter Benchley, Ernest Hemingway, Milton Friedman, Greg Hoogkamp, Ken Griffin, Billy Joel, Sy and Marcy Syms, Barney's, Vornado Realty Trust, Bob Castrignano, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Jonathan Urfrig, Frank Meyer, Jack Welch, Mel Blount, Steve Roth, Rob Kapito, Larry Fink, Robert Rubin, Abraham Lincoln, General Joseph Hooker, General Ambrose Burnside, Michael Jordan, Sidney Weinberg, Mark O. Winkelman, Martin Luther King Jr., Jackie Robinson, Arthur Ashe, Winston Churchill, Herman Melville, Scott Prince, Eliot Spitzer, Ken Langone, Marty Lipton, Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz, John Paulson, Phil Falcone, Dan Och, Marc Dreier, Steve Kroft, Philip Delves Broughton, Sandler O'Neill, Bobby Valentine, Mickey Lione, Doug Romano, Gary Kaminsky, Jimmy Dunne, Joseph E. Robert, John Warner, Richard Lugar, Al Cheechi, Gary Wilson, Quincy Jones, Bono, George Tenet, General Colin Powell, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Mel Brooks, Julie Andrews, Max von Bismarck, Frank Brosens, John F. Iacobucci, Buddy Hackett, Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., Vincent Bzdek, Jill Lawrence, Michael Lewis, Errol Smalls, Gene Griessman, Pat Williams, Robert Fagles, Garry Wills, Anthony Everitt, Nelson DeMille, Roy Jenkins, David Fromkin, Denis Waitley, Martin Seligman, William Manchester, Jack Shepherd, Kevin Wang, Richard Glanas, Dick Rogoff, Ed Spiegel, Ken Brody, Tony Lauto, Josephine Linden, Geoff Boisi, David Darst, John Watras, Robert Sechan, Brian Hull, Greg Fleming, Bob McCann, Herbert A. Allen III, Larry Bacow, Jim Stern, Nathan Gantcher, Richard DiVenuto, Sue Ponce, Deidre Ball, Minna Urrey, Victor Oviedo, Annie Pressman, Celia Costas, Antoine Douaihy, Amanda Crisses, Amy Draughn, Morgan Marling, Josh Brolin, Shia LaBeouf, Dan Colarusso, Kelly O'Connor

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