American business magnate Michael Milken is a feminist
by Danielle Berrin
5 days ago
Among his many titles - financial genius, convicted felon, consummate philanthropist – it turns out the “junk bond king” Michael Milken has a thing for women, just not in that usual Wall Street way.
During the 2014 Milken Global Conference held in Beverly Hills last week, a three-day confab for business titans focused on the future of the world, Milken repeatedly used his public platform to celebrate the achievements and contributions of women.
It began at a small cocktail gathering for women on Wednesday evening, featuring an impressive panel of business leaders including PR Crisis Manager Judy Smith (upon whom the character Olivia Pope from ABC’s “Scandal” is based and who, most famously, handled the scandal of all scandals, the Clinton/Lewinsky affair), Nancy Dubuc, the president and CEO of A+E Networks, and Molly Ashby, CEO of Solera Capital LLC on Wall Street.
Milken was one of a handful of men to attend. Although his public appearances were mainly reserved for the larger, headlining panels, Milken made a point of taking the stage to offer a personal editorial on women’s progress in the business world. Looking back on his more than four-decade career, he recounted a history of gender inequality in the financial industry.
During the 1980s, when he was in a career transition, Milken said he spent three months consulting for a financial firm. When he met with the lead partner at the firm, he asked him, “Who is the smartest person here?” The partner replied—(duh)--“Me.”
Three months later, after Milken had assessed the company, he went back to that same partner with some unexpected news: “You’re not the smartest person here,” Milken recalled saying. That title belonged to a woman Milken had met in another department who was not only financially savvy but tech savvy – and had become one of the first in her field to computerize the tax code.
“Why isn’t she a partner?” Milken lobbed at the head of the firm. On stage, Milken widened his eyes and gave a little smirk. “A Woooomaaaaan?” he mimicked the partner as saying in response, “as partner?” His voice rose and fell in mock astonishment.
In those days, female partnership at major financial firms was so infrequent that is was as shocking as it was unfair. Milken then rattled off some statistics about female advancement over the years, bragging about the many women who work for him.
He offered truly lavish praise for Milken Institute managing director Mindy Silverstein, who sat among the hundred or so women in the audience.
“She’s my boss,” Milken said with obvious reverence. He noted her round-the-clock work hours, early morning emails and meticulous conference planning. He told the crowd that it was Silverstein who had invited him to an illustrious dinner with a foreign head of state earlier that week, which was a little hard to believe considering Milken’s own venerable clout. And yet, that was how it happened: “Keep inviting me to those dinners,” he told her, looking over as she gleamed. ...
Again, Milken made a fuss over women – this time, in front of the entire conference – talking about how far women have come, how a record 1,000-plus women had registered and attended the Global Conference this year etc., etc., before giving Napolitano the courtesy of the first introduction. And the first opportunity to speak.
I’ve never met Michael Milken face to face. But after hearing his overtures to women at Global Conference, I want to.
I've met Milken face to face. I had a five-minute conversation with him once at a Milken Global Conference. It was a little like talking to a hyper-intelligent space reptile who is trying hard to act friendly toward the Earthlings upon whose planet he is stranded.
By Noah Smith 7 hours ago
Noah Smith is an assistant professor of finance at Stony Brook University. His blog is Noahpinion.
Gary Becker, who passed away this week, was a man who changed the field of economics. ...
One tradeoff Becker thought a lot about was workplace discrimination. Suppose that managers and executives are racist or sexist—for whatever reason, they just don’t want to hire women and minorities, or to pay them what they’re worth (pretty realistic, if you ask me). But this discrimination doesn’t come without a cost. If one company pays women and minorities less than they produce, they could jump ship. With a highly productive and relatively cheap workforce of women and minorities, a fair-minded company could out-compete a discriminatory company and drive it out of business.
Unless, of course, it can’t. Becker theorized that regulation and other government protections can shield discriminatory companies against attack. That would protect the jobs of the people who worked at those old-line companies, but would perpetuate workplace unfairness in the process.
In other words, Becker thought that competition kills discrimination. Open up the floodgates of dog-eat-dog capitalism, and women and minorities will win greater equality in the workplace.
If you’ve ever marveled at the progress women have made in the US economy, you can’t help but be intrigued by this story. After all, it was around 1980 that women really started to win economic equality.
Give or take 10 or 15 years, but who can remember all the way back to the 1970s? It's easy to make up theories about eras you don't have any feel for based on a few statistics that you don't understand.
... What happened in the early ’80s? Laws mandating “equal pay for equal work” had been around since the early 1960s, but the gap hadn’t budged. The feminist movement had been shifting cultural norms for decades, but why should it suddenly score big economic breakthroughs in the relatively conservative 1980s after years of frustration?
One explanation for women’s sudden success is that Becker was right. The early ’80s saw a wave of deregulation, and the start of a steady increase in trade as a percent of GDP. It also saw the advent of new forms of finance, designed to take power out of the hands of managers and put it in the hands of shareholders.
Remember the movie Wall Street, when Gordon Gekko declared that “greed is good”? The real-life version of Gordon Gekko was Mike Milken, the “junk bond king.” Milken and his firm, Drexel Burnham Lambert, pioneered the use of high-yielding “junk bonds” to finance corporate takeovers. Boosted by Milken’s financial engineering and a helpful 1982 Supreme Court ruling, corporate takeovers exploded in the 1980s. America’s managers and executives saw their cozy empires come under assault. Corporatism went into decline, and shareholder capitalism went into ascendance.
Under the triple assault of shareholder capitalism, deregulation, and globalization, corporate America at first withered, laying off millions in the ’80s. The old social contract, where large safe companies gave long-term safe jobs to millions of working Americans (mostly white men), broke down. Inequality and insecurity rose.
“Neoliberals” usually claim that these unfortunate changes were justified by the economic growth they produced. But if Becker was right, then the unrestrained capitalism unleashed in the 1980s had another unexpected benefit—increased gender equality.
If Becker was right, then Mike Milken was one of history’s most important feminists. ...
Was Becker right? Was Mike Milken – that unlikely feminist hero, whose firm was itself notoriously sexist, who was thrown in jail for fraud–actually America’s most important agent of gender equality? We’ll never know for sure. We should never discount the importance of the feminist movement, which at the very least prepared society to accept rapid changes in gender roles, and probably also contributed to the changes in the workplace. But neither should we ignore the positive side effects of unrestrained capitalism. In the end, bigotry doesn’t pay.
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- Michael Milken
- Herb Allen, head of investment banking firm Allen & Company
- Samuel Belzberg, founder and CEO of First City Financial Corporation
- Leon Black, Drexel Burnham investment banker and founder ofApollo Management
- Ivan Boesky, arbitrageur implicated in the 1980s insider trading scandal
- I.W. "Tubby" Burnham, founder of Burnham & Co., later Drexel Burnham Lambert
- Fred Carr, head of First Executive Insurance
- James Dahl, Drexel Burnham bond salesman
- Donald Engel, Managing Director of Drexel Burnham from 1979 to 1984
- Theodore J. Forstmann, co-founder of buyout firm Forstmann Little & Co.
- Howard Gittis, attorney and advisor to Ronald Perelman
- Sir James Goldsmith, investor and corporate raider
- Samuel J. Heyman, investor and corporate raider
- Carl Icahn, investor and corporate raider
- Fred Joseph, CEO of Drexel Burnham Lambert
- Henry Kravis, co-founder of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts
- Dennis Levine, former Drexel Burnham investment banker
- Cy Lewis, managing partner of Bear Stearns
- Carl Lindner, Jr., investor and businessman
- Lowell Milken, Michael Milken's brother and former Drexel Burnham employee
- Nelson Peltz, investor and corporate raider
- Ronald Perelman, investor and corporate raider
- T. Boone Pickens, investor and corporate raider
- Victor Posner, investor and corporate raider
- Felix Rohatyn, investment banker
- Meshulam Riklis, investor and corporate raider
- Martin Siegel, former Kidder Peabody and Drexel Burnham investment banker
- Saul Steinberg, investor and corporate raider
- Jeffrey Steiner, investor in high yield bonds, responsible for introducing Drexel to European investors
- Lawrence Tisch, investor and head of Loews Corporation
- Gerald Tsai, investor, responsible for building Primerica
- Stephen Wynn, casino and real estate developer
(There was, though, one black Milken frontman, Reginald F. Lewis, who made the Forbes 400 in 1992 before dying of a brain tumor -- this dealmaker's death set off a brief panic that the new cell phones could give you brain cancer.)