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Intervention by Denise Caruso Read Intervention by Denise Caruso, Executive Director of the Hybrid Vigor Silver Award Winner, 2007 Independent Publisher Book Awards; Best Business Books 2007, Strategy+Business Magazine

archive for September, 2008


by ~ September 29, 2008

A story in today’s New York Times discusses how the media has struggled to explain the financial crisis to audiences. Admittedly, many industry experts are dumbfounded by the events of the last few weeks. Where the media has faltered, my good friend and former colleague Bob Blakley has succeeded with his down-to-earth post on “Wall Street’s Governance and Risk Management Crisis.” Thanks, Bob!

I particularly liked Bob’s phrasing of the “collective margin call” on the banks. It indicates that part of what’s happened is a failure in coordination: banks have cash on hand as long as only a few percent of their patrons want to withdraw their cash. This echoes a theme of a post I wrote about the credit crunch back in June. Here’s an excerpt from that post:

Clearly, a great crime has been committed. An entire nation has been robbed. World markets are shaken. But who’s responsible? Nobody. And everybody. The insidious nature of this crime is that we all collaborated to commit it and without a master plan. Can such collective action crimes be avoided? Or is the commons forever doomed to be the scene of tragedy?

Bob’s comments on risk management are also strongly reminiscent of Denise’s work on risk management in the biotech industry. Bob writes:

Risk management failures created the current financial crisis, and risk management failures have also created the personal information disclosure crisis, and the malware crisis, and a bunch of other problems which are not yet crises. We do risk management poorly in all disciplines. We do it poorly for a bunch of reasons: executives don’t understand their own businesses well enough to understand their risks; risk managers don’t know how to talk to executives about risk; incentives favor creating long-term risks in order to accrue short-term profits; the list goes on and on.

Denise’s main assertion in her book, “Intervention: Confronting the Real Risks of Genetic Engineering and Life on a Biotech Planet,” is that the biotech industry is similarly awash in poorly managed risk. Genetic engineering is another impending crisis that, once it reaches crisis levels, people will be dumbfounded to explain.

As an avalanche of new laws and regulations hit Wall Street over the next few years, I fear that we’ll lose sight of the most important learning to take away from this disaster. Again, Bob Blakley explains:

A final thought.  The financial crisis exists because of a failure of risk management. There will be a temptation to fix the problem using compliance mandates. Compliance mandates, however, don’t fix risk management problems. All they do is prevent specific risk management failures from happening over and over again. Organizations whose risk management is weak will find new ways to fail - and these new ways will circumvent compliance regulations. The right way to fix a risk management problem is to do a better job of risk management.