Madoff

I Love Capitalism with Ken Langone

Every once in a while I chat with somebody who makes me realize just how cool my job really is.

That’s the case this week with Ken Langone, the legendary financier, who helped take a bunch of companies public before co-founding Home Depot. Ken has also became a philanthropist extraordinaire, helping to rebuild the New York University hospital.

Ken dropped by for an in-studio to talk about his new book, I Love Capitalism!: An American Storybut really it was just a fascinating conversation with a guy who grew up in a working-class family on Long Island, put himself through school, and after some hard work and smart decisions and a few guardian angels, became one of the most successful businessmen in the country.

Ken Langone has seen it all on his way to a net worth beyond his wildest dreams, now in excess of $3 billion dollars.

In a series of captivating stories, Langone shows how he struggled in academics, broke into Wall Street, and scrambled for an MBA at night while competing with privileged competitors by day. He also shares how he learned to evaluate the value of a business and apply his street smarts to negotiate enormous deals.

And what happened when Langone was approached by Bernie Madoff for an investment, just weeks before the Ponzi scheme came to light? You’ll have to tune in for that chestnut...

Langone says that the book is his love song to capitalism..."Absolutely anybody is entitled to dream big, and absolutely everybody should dream big. I did. Show me where the silver spoon was in my mouth. I’ve got to argue profoundly and passionately: I’m the American Dream.”

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#355 - The Wizard of Lies and Make Your Bed

Happy holidays! With Christmas and the New Year upon us, our gift to you this holiday season is our favorite interviews from 2017. 

We start the show this week with Bernie Madoff, perhaps the most notorious name in the history of Wall Street.

By now we all know the story. Madoff conducted a Ponzi scheme that is considered to be the largest in U.S. history. Over the course of decades, Madoff stole billions of dollars from his clients and finally, amid the financial crisis of 2008, the crime came to a screeching halt.

How on earth was he able to pull it off for so long, when there were plenty of warning signs and whistleblowers who tried to alert regulators that something was amiss?

One of the journalists covering the scandal was Diana Henriques, then a staff reporter at The New York Times, who specialized in investigative reporting on white-collar crime, market regulation and corporate governance. Diana used her countless hours of work as the lead reporter on the story as a catalyst to write the bestselleing book, The Wizard of Lies: Bernie Madoff and the Death of Trust.

Diana had incredible access, including the first interview with an imprisoned Madoff. I was fortunate enough to interview her in 2011, just as the book was becoming a bestseller. I remember thinking at the time that the tale of Bernie Madoff was not just a financial story, but a Shakespearean tragedy.

Robert De Niro was so drawn to the character of Bernie Madoff as Henriques depicted him, that he bought the film rights to “The Wizard of Lies.” Six years later, HBO films released the movie version of “The Wizard of Lies” - it debuted this past May.

If you’ve yet to see “The Wizard of Lies,” go watch it. DVR it, stream it, whatever the method, just watch it. It’s incredibly well done and stars Robert De Niro as Bernie Madoff and Michelle Pfeiffer as Ruth Madoff.

Diana is an amazing storyteller, from her dogged pursuit of the Madoff prison interview to her describing the phone call she got from Robert De Niro saying he wanted to play Madoff...just an incredible story.

Hour two features an interview with Retired Admiral William “Bill” McRaven.

If Bill’s name sounds familiar, it is likely because he was the leader that presided over the 2011 Navy SEAL raid, which resulted in the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. Bill was the man who identified the body when it was flown back to Afghanistan and told President Obama that the U.S. finally had their guy.

A few years later in 2014, the four-star admiral and 37-year Navy SEAL veteran delivered the commencement speech at his alma mater, the University of Texas at Austin (Hook ‘em Horns!). Little did McRaven know that his address, which spoke to how students could overcome challenges and change themselves, would become a viral hit with nearly 25 million views online.

In January, 2015 Bill became the Chancellor of the entire University of Texas system and was encouraged to expand his commencement speech into a book, Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life...And Maybe the World.

We touch on other subjects during the interview...and for the upteenth time over the past eight years, I sometimes have to pinch myself -- I am so lucky to do what I do...#Gratitude! 

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Ep. 042 - The Road to Black Monday, the Worst Day in Wall Street History with Diana Henriques

Ask some Wall Street veterans where they were on October 19, 1987 and they will likely regale you with details of any crisis. My life changed that day in ways that often creep up on me. Indeed, Black Monday was the single worst day in Wall Street history, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunging by more than 22 percent in one session--that’s the equivalent of the blue chip index diving by more than 5,000 points today.

It was a “First Class Catastrophe”, according to our first class guest and storyteller supreme, Diana Henriques, who dropped by the studio to help us retrace the events that led up to that day.

Diana joined us on the podcast earlier this year when her book, The Wizard of Lies: Bernie Madoff and the Death of Trust, was made into an HBO movie. This time around Diana is joining us to discuss her latest book, A First-Class Catastrophe: The Road to Black Monday, the Worst Day in Wall Street History. As Diana recounts, Black Monday was more than seven years in the making and threatened nearly every U.S. financial institution.

There were missed opportunities, market delusions, and destructive actions that stretched from the “silver crisis” of 1980 to turf battles in Washington and a rivalry between the New York Stock Exchange and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

Here’s the crazy thing...you’d think that after Black Monday, lessons would be learned. But in her analysis, Henriques demonstrates how that Monday in the fall of 1987 was the predicate to the financial crisis of 2008. Sadly, investors, regulators, and bankers failed to heed the lessons of 1987, even as the same patterns resurfaced.

This was a fascinating interview for me because I lived through this period. I had just started my career on Wall Street, as the chaos was unfolding. I watched firsthand as my father nearly lost his business. This chat was like going down memory lane and it’ll give you guys a good glimpse of the life I used to live before I started hosting podcasts and radio shows!

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Ep. 041 - The Equifax Data Breach with Credit Expert John Ulzheimer

How many of you were impacted by the recent Equifax data breach? I was, Mark was, and considering 145.5 million other Americans were impacted, I’m going to guess that includes many of you too.

Now that the news is out, heads have rolled (CEO Richard Smith has stepped down), Congressional hearings have taken place, where do things stand? More importantly, what should you do? Who should you trust?

In times like these, there’s one go-to person: John Ulzheimer, the foremost authority on anything involving credit scores, credit reports, breaches, etc. John is so good that we did this interview on the phone!

Formerly of FICO, Equifax and Credit.com, John is the only recognized credit expert who actually comes from the credit industry. He has served as a credit expert witness in more than 270 cases and has been qualified to testify in both Federal and State court on the topic of consumer credit.

We’re going to get into all the dos and don’ts with John, but so you also have the vitals to reference, here are the main takeaways:

  • Contact one (under Federal law, each is obligated to notify the other two) of the three credit bureaus Equifax (800-766-0008), Experian (888-397-3742) and TransUnion (800-680-7289) to put a free fraud alert on your credit report. You should also contact a fourth, lesser known company Innovis. The alert makes it harder for an identity thief to open more accounts in your name, but experts note that alerts usually just slow down the process of criminals opening accounts in your name, they don’t prevent it.
  • If someone has used your information to make purchases or open accounts, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and print your Identity Theft Affidavit. Use that to file a police report and create your Identity Theft Report.
  • Place a credit-freeze on your credit file, which generally stops all access to your credit report. Unfortunately, you need to contact all the companies to freeze your file. Here are the links: Equifax; Experian; TransUnion and Innovis. Important note about a freeze: If you need to access credit, you have to unfreeze your records, which can take a few days. Some states charge a fee for placing or removing a credit freeze, but it’s free to place or remove a fraud alert.

I’m not trying to freak you out or make you even more paranoid, but the reality of the situation is not if your information will be compromised, but when.

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"Better Off" theme music is by Joel Goodman, www.joelgoodman.com.

Ep. 040 - The Surprising Power of a "Useless" Liberal Arts Education

So often on this podcast, and on my radio show, we field questions from recent grads with insane amounts of student loan debt. Sometimes it’s enough debt to wreck a life.

There’s enough blame to go around, but so often it’s a case of students feeling the pressure to go to fancy, high priced colleges to study what seems like an obscure major. But before you think that I am about to argue that every able-bodied student should be studying for a degree in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) field, read on...

Let me pose a question. What is wrong with a well-rounded liberal arts degree? A degree, which I might add, can be earned at countless reasonably priced colleges.

George Anders, our guest this week on Better Off makes a strong case in his recently released book, You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of a "Useless" Liberal Arts Education.

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist or know how to write computer code to succeed in today’s work environment.

When you really think about it, it’s amazing how many doors a so called “useless” liberal arts education can open.

As George says, you can be yourself, as an English major, and thrive in sales. You can segue from anthropology into the booming new field of user research; from classics into management consulting, and from philosophy into high-stakes investing. At any stage of your career, you can bring a humanist’s grace to the rapidly evolving high-tech future.

If you’ve got kids starting the college application process, who are resisting calls to declare a STEM major or if you’re thinking about furthering your education by going to grad school, listen to this episode before making any decisions.

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Ep. 039 - Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy with Tim Harford

How many of you rode an elevator today? Or Googled something? Or use index funds in your financial lives?

I’m going to guess all of you did at least one of those things. I’m also going to guess that you probably didn’t realize that those three things are among the 50 inventions that shaped the modern economy.

That’s according to the list compiled by BBC and Financial Times journalist Tim Harford, our guest this week on Better Off and author of the new book, Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy.

The book paints a picture of change by telling fascinating and compelling stories of the tools, people, and ideas that had far-reaching consequences for the global economy. From the plough to air conditioning, from Gillette’s disposable razor to IKEA’s Billy bookcase, Tim is able to recount each invention’s own curious, surprising, and memorable journey.

We also touched on Tim’s previous book, Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives, which comes out in paperback this October. As someone who could be described as a bit compulsive, especially when it comes to my email inbox, I loved this book because it celebrates the benefits of messiness in our lives: why it’s important, why we resist it, and why we should embrace it.

Little did I know that a bit of mess lies at the core of how we innovate, how we achieve, how we reach each other – in short, how we succeed.

I enjoyed this interview so much that, yep, you guessed it, no call this week! I don’t think you’ll mind...this was a fun one.

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Ep. 038 - How Wall Street Destroyed Main Street with Rana Foroohar

As you’ll recall, we did our fair share of explaining why Wall Street matters, on the episode featuring Bill Cohan.

Today we’re doing a 180 with financial journalist and author Rana Foroohar. Rana’s book, Maker and Takers: How Wall Street Destroyed Main Street, doesn’t exactly paint our economic system in the best light.

The book, just released in paperback, explores how the misguided financial practices and philosophies that nearly toppled the global financial system have infiltrated many US businesses.

Rana shows how the “financialization of America,” the trend by which finance and its way of thinking have come to reign supreme, is perpetuating Wall Street’s reign over Main Street, widening the gap between rich and poor, and threatening the future of the American Dream.

And since it’s not everyday that we have a Financial Times columnist in the studio, we also talked a good bit about the global economy, including Germany, Brexit, and China.

Rana is a great storyteller, and it’s through stories of both “Takers,” those stifling job creation while lining their own pockets, and “Makers,” businesses serving the real economy, that she shows how we can reverse these trends for a better path forward.

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Ep. 037 - MONEY’s 2017-18 Best Colleges For Your Money

It’s September and by now, the kids are back to school. Not surprisingly, I used to love this time of year. What can I say...you guys know I’m a total geek.

Whether you’re sending your little ones off for the first time or your kid is entering the final chapter of high school, the most expensive part of their education is yet to come!

I know, I’m such a Debbie Downer. But the cost of college is no joke and if handled without forethought, it can wreak havoc on the financial lives of parents or saddle kids with boatloads of debt.

There are thousands of colleges out there. Public, private, in-state, out-of-state, off-campus, on-campus, this major, that major...it goes on and on. It can be extremely overwhelming.

So where does one turn for some help with the process? My favorite place to go is the annual Best Colleges For Your Money list from MONEY.

To help us break down the 2017 rankings, MONEY reporter Kaitlin Mulhere, joins us. Her beat is her education, so she is the ideal person to discuss the topic.

According to Kaitlin, MONEY uses three categories to compile the list:

  • Cost: This category takes into account the net price of a degree, student loan debt, student loan repayment and default risk, value-added student loan repayment measures and affordability for low-income students.
  • Education Quality: This includes the six-year graduation rate, value-added graduation rate, peer quality, instructor quality and financial troubles facing the school.
  • Alumni Success: Includes graduates’ earnings, earnings adjusted by majors, 10-year earnings, estimated market-value of alumni’s average job skills and value-added earnings.

“Better Off” is sponsored by Betterment.

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Ep. 036 - Weapons of Math Destruction with Cathy O’Neil

This week on the Better Off podcast it’s yet another example of my geekiness.

I love math and statistics...but I am nothing compared to the brilliant Cathy O’Neil. I have been a fan girl of Cathy’s since discovering her blog, mathbabe.org and then hearing her on the Slate Money podcast. Cathy, whose New York Times bestselling book Weapons of Math Destruction is now out in paperback, is the ultimate math geek, but more importantly, she is one of the most thoughtful intellectuals that I have encountered.

Cathy’s resume is impressive: a Ph.D. in math from Harvard, a postdoc at the MIT math department, a professor at Barnard College, where she published a number of research papers in arithmetic algebraic geometry and then a short-lived stint on Wall Street, before she launched her consulting firm, ORCAA.

When I heard Cathy explain complicated topics and then read the hardcover edition of the book last year, I knew we had to have her on the pod. It’s such a fascinating read about how big data increases inequality and threatens democracy. From how teachers are graded to how policing strategies are developed to credit scores and health insurance...it’s going to blow your mind when you hear how algorithms (mathematical models), dictate so much of our day-to-day lives.

But what happens when these models are out of whack...opaque, unregulated and incontestable? Unfortunately, the already unlucky and struggling among us, get the short end of the stick. What can individuals do about these unproven mathematical equations?

As you’ll hear Cathy explain, it starts by asking some basic questions. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did. It’s by far one of my favorites...so much so that there’s no call this week, just the interview.

“Better Off” is sponsored by Betterment.

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Ep. 035 - Strategies for Achieving Peak Performance

I’m going to let you guys in on a little secret.  I’m a total nerd when it comes to the brain and behavior. Why we choose to do the things we do or behave in certain ways has always fascinated me.  

So a few months ago when today’s guest, Friederike Fabritius, was in town from Germany, I jumped at the chance to interview her.  

Friederike is a leading expert in the field of Neuroleadership. In other words, she’s also a total nerd when it comes to the brain and behavior. In her recent book, The Leading Brain: Powerful Science-Based Strategies for Achieving Peak Performance, she presents simple yet powerful strategies for:

  • Achieving the highest performance
  • Sharpening focus
  • Learning and retaining information more efficiently
  • Improving complex decision-making
  • Cultivating trust and building strong teams

Throughout the book, Friederike focuses on using solid scientific findings to develop new methods and practices for leadership development.  

With Labor Day upon us and the final quarter of the year in sight, you may want to pick up this book for both you and your colleagues so you can all strive to perform at your maximum potential.  

“Better Off” is sponsored by Betterment.

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"Better Off" theme music is by Joel Goodman, www.joelgoodman.com.