Category Archives: Stories and Lessons

Lehman Brothers revisited

Lehman Brothers revisitedSo much has been written about the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the incredible story behind it. Last year, I read “The Devil’s Casino” by Vicky Ward. It portrays how ridiculous an organisational culture can get and can survive this way for so long when misuses of power and money dictate. Other books have been written, including “A Colossal Failure of Common Sense: The Inside Story of the Collapse of Lehman Brothers” by Lawrence G. McDonald and Patrick Robinson. (I have not read this book, but in a beautifully written guest blog by McDonald, who is one of the authors, he tells of how the collapse was preventable, of the incredible talent at Lehman Brothers, of the rotting at the head and more).

I recently read a paper entitled “Lehman Brothers: Accounting Magic – Deleveraging, Manipulation & Moral Hazard” by Professor A.J Kreimer of Temple University. Yet more shocking details were unravelled here. Very creative accounting was used in which assets were sold just before year-end and repurchased just after year-end to give an appearance of a less leveraged balance sheet.

To most of us, all this is incredibly difficult to fathom. It would seem that regulations, boards, audits, all diminish in effectiveness when power and money come into play. I wonder how much more readily avoidable such a saga would be today?

Psychopaths: Beware, They Really Do Look Normal

It wasn’t my intention in this blog to talk about crime, but everything is interlinked somehow, and I hope it will be helpful.

In one of my previous posts, The Garden City Butcher, I remarked about how stunned I was that the criminal seemed so normal, polite, and friendly. Yesterday, I watched another documentary on the “Crime Investigation” channel, about the high profile case in Malaysia of the murder of Canny Ong, a young lady (with a black belt in taekwando). Canny Ong was abducted from the car park of a (relatively upmarket) shopping complex in Kuala Lumpur. Again here, the criminal looked like a perfectly normal, innocent, simple guy. Apologies if it is a known fact that this is indeed the case in general, but I had not been aware of this before. I expect there are many others out there who, like me, somehow imagined that criminals have a suspicious look and demeanour about them and can be avoided with some common sense. It really is not that simple. More general reading on the subject can be found in the article “The Psychopath: The Mask of Sanity“.

I didn’t find the hour-long documentary on the internet but found a preview of that TV dcoumentary, called “The Murder of Canny Ong premiers on CI“. The criminal can be seen from about 1’30” to 1’40” in this preview video. The documentary has been created to raise public awareness and I hope it does.

Crimewatch – The Garden City Butcher

Youtube Video (PG, Graphic Scenes): The Garden City Butcher

The TV happened to be switched on at the Crimewatch channel a few days ago and I happened to watch this (true story). It is about a criminal in the mid-nineties whose modus operandi was to befriend unsuspecting tourists and find a way into their rooms (e.g. by sharing a room or agreeing to go to breakfast together). Once in, he used an electric shocking device to put out his victims, killed them, then doctored their passports and credit cards to get their money.

What stunned me in particular was how completely normal, friendly and charming this criminal seemed when chatting with tourists. Watch from 18’10” to 18’50” and from 28’42” to 29’34” in the video (continue watching if you want to see what happened next, but please be warned, it is gruesome). Disturbingly, I am pretty sure every single iota of ‘gut feel’ that has been honed in me in my almost half a century of existence and every bit of cellular intelligence in me would not have raised a single alarm bell if this person had started a conversation with me. How often have we chatted with passengers in a flight or people waiting to board an airplane and used our senses to decide whether to talk more, meet again or become friends – everybody does it!

I am still flabbergasted and dumbfounded, a few days after watching this. These victims were really, really unlucky and perhaps all that can be said (lame as it sounds in this context) is, let’s not be charmed too quickly when talking to any stranger. Also, given the criminal’s history of having been to prison many times, perhaps it would have been helpful if the authorities could have put some sort of ‘watch’ on him and not let him travel so freely. I wonder if police and detectives are sufficiently resourced to do this?