Wall Street learns the high cost of sexist comments

While Wall Street traders’ excesses and verbal outrages have been the subject of numerous films, the heads of big companies and financial groups generally have done their best to stay above the fray, though not all have succeeded. (Shutterstock)
Updated 21 October 2019

Wall Street learns the high cost of sexist comments

  • Several financial entities broke ties with Fisher Investments

NEW YORK: The #MeToo movement recently reached dramatically into the world of high finance, as one prominent Wall Street figure learned after losing the management of at least $1 billion in assets over his disparaging remarks about women.
Ken Fisher, whose slickly produced videos promoting his financial expertise still air regularly on American financial news networks, was invited in early October to a conference in San Francisco.
The conference, which advertises a “no media” policy, was supposed to remain private.
But one participant, Alex Chalekian, said he felt so disturbed by some of Fisher’s remarks, many with strong sexual undertones, that he took to Twitter to vent his outrage.
He posted a video blasting Fisher’s references to “genitalia” and drug use, as well as his comparison of the recruiting of a new client to a crass and boorish attempt to pick up a girl in a bar.
“Things that were said by Ken Fisher were just absolutely horrifying,” Chalekian said. He said several women who attended the event later told him Fisher’s remarks made them feel “very uncomfortable.”
Fisher subsequently expressed regret for his comments, saying in a message to AFP that “I realize this kind of language has no place in our company or industry. I sincerely apologize.”
But the damage was done. Several financial entities broke ties with Fisher Investments, which manages some $112 billion.
The city of Boston was among those.
“Boston will not invest in companies led by people who treat women like commodities,” said Mayor Marty Walsh.
According to a tally by the CNBC network, Fisher Investments lost around $1 billion in managed assets within days.
The total could grow, since Fidelity Investments, one of the world’s largest asset managers, expressed its unhappiness and said it was reviewing the relationship.
“We are very concerned about the highly inappropriate comments by Kenneth Fisher,” a Fidelity spokesperson said. “The views he expressed do not align in any way with our company’s values. We do not tolerate these types of comments at our company.”
Fisher manages about $500 million in Fidelity’s assets, CNBC said.
While Wall Street traders’ excesses and verbal outrages have been the subject of numerous films, the heads of big companies and financial groups generally have done their best to stay above the fray, though not all have succeeded.
“The brand is the company’s value and the CEO is identified with the brand,” said Charles Elson, a specialist in corporate governance at the University of Delaware, “which is why it’s just a really good idea for a CEO to focus on running the business and to avoid getting into political or social controversy when speaking publicly.
“When they do, it naturally creates problems.”
Travis Kalanick, a co-founder of Uber, was thus forced out in 2017 amid reports that the company’s workplace culture included sexual harassment and discrimination.
Elon Musk had to give up the chairmanship of Tesla this year after his Twitter use got him in trouble with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission, Wall Street’s “policeman.”
In September, the co-founder of WeWork, Adam Neumann, stepped down as chief executive amid complaints about his lavish lifestyle and some impulsive actions that he himself said had become “a significant distraction.”
Across the world of high finance, meanwhile, Fisher’s remarks were widely denounced.
Art Hogan, chief market strategist with National Holdings, said that “it’s never appropriate to use that kind of language. That would be true today, and it was 20 years ago.”
“Maybe it was the norm back to a time of the TV show ‘Mad Men,’” which was set mostly in the New York advertising world of the 1960s, “but it has not been in my career.”
And in a world where the “ESG investing trend” is growing, Hogan said — referring to an emphasis on environmentalism, social issues and governance concerns — “it even speaks louder.”
Gregori Volokhine, president of Meeschaert Financial Services, said that Fisher’s remarks were not necessarily anything new in the financial world.
“Except now, everyone is afraid between the rise of the #MeToo movement and ESG management,” Volokhine said.


Lebanese journalist Roula Khalaf becomes first female editor of Financial Times

Updated 12 November 2019

Lebanese journalist Roula Khalaf becomes first female editor of Financial Times

  • Khalaf has served as deputy editor, foreign editor and Middle East editor during her more than two decades at FT
  • Khalaf will join Katharine Viner at the Guardian as one of the few women to edit major newspapers in Britain

LONDON: Lebanese journalist Roula Khalaf will become the first woman to edit the Financial Times in its 131-year history after Lionel Barber, Britain’s most senior financial journalist, said he would step down.
Barber said on Tuesday he would leave in January after 14 years as editor and 34 years at the Nikkei-owned newspaper, which had one million paying readers in 2019, with digital subscribers accounting for more than 75% of total circulation.
Khalaf has served as deputy editor, foreign editor and Middle East editor during her more than two decades at the salmon-pink FT and in recent years has sought to increase diversity in the newsroom and attract more female readers, while also becoming the publication’s first Arab editor.
“It’s a great honor to be appointed editor of the FT, the greatest news organization in the world.
“I look forward to building on Lionel Barber’s extraordinary achievements,” said Khalaf, whose earlier writing for Forbes magazine had earned her a small role in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street.
Her article described the leading character Jordan Belfort as sounding like a twisted version of Robin Hood who takes from the rich and gives to himself and his merry band of brokers.
Khalaf will join Katharine Viner at the Guardian as one of the few women to edit major newspapers in Britain and one of few leading female editors in the world after Jill Abramson left the New York Times.
Before joining the FT in 1995, Khalaf worked at Forbes in New York and earned a master’s at Columbia University and graduated from Syracuse University.
Tsuneo Kita, chairman of Japan’s Nikkei which bought the FT from Pearson in 2015, said in a statement Khalaf was chosen for her sound judgment and integrity.
“We look forward to working closely with her to deepen our global media alliance.”
Nikkei’s Kita described Barber as a strategic thinker and true internationalist, adding he was very sad to see him leave.
“However, both of us agree it is time to open a new chapter,” he said.
During his time as editor, Barber engineered a successful push into online subscription that protected the title as others battled an unprecedented collapse in advertising revenue, as well as managing the move to a new owner.