John Mack Rides Quietly Into the Night

Bidding farewell to Morgan Stanley's chief--one of the last surviving Wall Street titans--pundits wonder if he was too quiet for his own good

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One way to tell the story of the financial crisis is through reactions to the long string of expelled Wall Street CEOs. First it was the villains: at the worst of the crisis, Dick Fuld (Lehman Brothers) got tarred and feathered. Then it was the martyrs, with $1-a-year CEO Ed Liddy (A.I.G.) getting mourned on his departure as a victim of a vengeful, scapegoating Congress. Now, the loss of Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack is being received with boredom, as though the signs of recovery have sucked all the excitement out of finance. Are pundits raring for the go-go days to return already? For some econopundits, Mack seems to have taken it a bit too slow.

Their recollections:

  • Mack Deserved to Get 'Whacked,' puns John C. Ogg at 24/7 Wall St. "Better late than never...This is of course news, but many have been expecting this news to hit for around two months or so."
  • Unfairly Remembered, says Jessica Pressler at New York Magazine. Pressler admires Mack for resigning after he brought the firm to shore: "Why don't more CEOs do this, we wondered." She then surveys the tepid farewells from other financial writers and wonders if Mack's problem was that he did his job too quietly and too well: "He survived. He managed. He did what Paul Krugman said, and made banking boring again. Thirty years at Morgan Stanley, and this is what he gets: Tepid reviews. Poor guy."
  • A Mediocre Player, says David Weidner at Marketwatch. "During his four years on Wall Street, Mack wasn't the best CEO and he wasn't the worst. He saved the firm, but he also embraced a lot of risk that put it in jeopardy last year."
  • Unsentimental Goodbyes, notes Michael Corkery at the Wall Street Journal, surveying the reaction of market analysts. "It is noteworthy that after the greatest financial calamity since the Great Depression, he is leaving in a quietly and orderly fashion. Go figure. That doesn't often happen on Wall Street."
  • Last Titan of His Kind, writes Sam Gustin at Daily Finance. "Among all of the former titans of the pre-2008 Wall Street era -- an era defined by speculation, leverage, and an unhealthy reliance on supposedly fool-proof financial models -- Mack was one of the last men standing -- not broke, perhaps, but badly bent."
  • Damned with Too Much Praise, observes Evan Newmark at the Wall Street Journal. "There's damning with faint praise. And then there's damning with too much praise. How else to interpret today's press release from Morgan Stanley announcing that current Co-President James Gorman will take over from John Mack as CEO come the New Year? Right up top in the headline of the press release was this dead give away: 'Announcement Follows Thorough Succession Planning Process and Achievement of Key Company Milestones.'"
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