Friday, October 28, 2011

Just When We Thought It Was Over, Another Insider Trading Indictment

Rajat Kumar Gupta - World Economic Forum Annua...Image by World Economic Forum via FlickrRajat Gupta pleaded not guilty to insider trading on Wednesday. His indictment comes mere weeks after Raj Rajaratnam was sentenced to eleven years in prison.

Gupta, a graduate of Harvard, was head of McKinsey and Company for a time, and has held senior leadership positions at Goldman Sachs and Proctor and Gamble. By all accounts he was well respected.

While NY Times Dealbook is touting this as the first arrest in this scandal to reach beyond Wall Street and into the corporate boardroom, that isn’t completely accurate. Let’s remember that senior executives at IBM (Bob Moffat), Intel (Rajiv Goel), and McKinsey (Anil Kumar), are all paying the price for their parts in this insider trading ring.

In total, 29 defendants have been charged, including both professional traders and corporate insiders. In practice, for an insider trading ring to be effective, there need to be insiders who have access to confidential information.

Nevertheless, whether the charges against Gupta will hold is yet to be seen. What we know for sure is that the story is not over yet.

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Novel Interview – With a Corporate Past

Okay, that title is a bit of a play on words – but I couldn’t resist. You see, today I have the pleasure of sharing an interview with a new novelist. Like me, she left Corporate America in 2008, and (like me) she has been forging a new career as a writer.

Like me, she blogs about life after Corporate America and (like me) she’s fun, intelligent, and witty. (Okay, my son would call that last little bit a “self call” but again, I couldn’t resist.) It’s precisely for all of these reasons – and to demonstrate that there is life after Corporate America – that I thought you might enjoy meeting Joanne Tombrakos, and hearing about her first novel, The Secrets They Kept.

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Joanne, when you left Corporate America you planned – among other things – to write. Is it everything you hoped it would be?

Yes and no. Does it look the way I thought it would? No. I thought I would have sold my novel to a big publishing house. I hadn’t even thought about self-publishing. I didn’t think I would coach or do any sales consulting. And I didn’t count on the economic meltdown that followed my departure in the fall of 2008.

The only thing I hoped it would be was happier. I wanted to stimulate both sides of my brain, not just the one that held the sharpened pencil and looked at spreadsheets. I wanted to feel passionate and challenged about my work again. I wanted more personal fulfillment. In that respect the answer is yes, it’s everything I hoped for.

I was really impressed with The Secrets They Kept. As I was reading the story the dialogue drew me in. Even though you write about a Greek family like your own, in the language I could hear Jewish mothers, Italian mothers, and even French-Canadian mothers. Do you find it surprising how universal the language of motherhood is?

I’m glad you reacted that way! I wanted the interaction to be relatable to more than just a Greek-American reader. And no, I am not surprised about the universality of the language. To me the mother-daughter dynamic has no distinction in race or ethnicity. The fortunate thing for me is that the Greeks have a flair for the dramatic, so it makes it easier to illustrate a point!

Joanne, you chose to tackle two very difficult topics in this story – secrets, and mental illness. Why those topics?

I can’t say there was a plan behind that. But then this novel started as an exercise in a writing class in which the assignment was to create a character. I had no story line in mind. But it was there Elena was born, so let’s say she led me to those topics. Of course she was fueled by my fascination with secret keeping and how in the process of keeping our truths from others, we deny ourselves our own truths.

As for choosing mental illness, I didn’t want Yannis to be a bad guy. I wanted there to be an explanation for his behavior that was beyond his control. Until recently diseases like these were shrouded in secrecy and shame. Before medication, individuals suffering from something like what was once called manic-depression could be locked away so no one knew. That seemed to fit into my secrecy theme.

I love that the story centered on the women and their complex relationships – too few novels do. Why do you think that is?

I read something recently in which Steven Spielberg was quoted as saying the problem with story today is that people have forgotten how to tell it. Characters drive the story. Yet we often get so focused on the plot and action, at the expense of the character development. My personal opinion is that novels have taken a back seat to tell all memoirs. Corporate decisions on what is getting bought are too often made not necessarily by what might be considered a good read, but by what will sell the most in the shortest period of time. Look at the rejection history of a wonderful novel like The Help. The complexity and depth of the characters are what drove the story line, yet she had a crazy, difficult time getting someone to publish it.

You chose to be your own publisher for this novel. I suspect that your business background came in very handy as you learned to be a publisher as well as a writer. What was the biggest challenge you found doing it yourself?

Letting myself take a break! I have a perfectionist streak that is embedded in my DNA, which can pose some challenges when there is no one to delegate to. But as you said, my business background is an asset. When I got my first job in radio sales it was a draw against commission position. I was told, that essentially I was creating my own business. The company gave me a phone, a desk, someone to take messages, because this was 1983 and our phone system did not have voice mail yet. But otherwise, I had to look at what I did as if I was in business for myself. That’s exactly how I operate now as a writer, coach, speaker and author. Except there is no draw!

I can totally relate to that drive for perfectionism! With one novel under your belt, what can we expect next from you?

I have a second already written, that needs a professional edit. This one is about a woman who was seduced by the corporate world in the eighties. Not that I know anything about that! I also have some ideas for non-fiction. The thing that is so great about being an entrepreneur is you don’t have to pigeon hole yourself into just one thing. I can write fiction and non-fiction, I can coach and I can even do some sales consulting when the opportunity strikes. It just requires good time management, another skill I honed in my corporate days!

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Joanne Tombrakos is a writer, business coach and speaker who inspires and creates change. She blogs on living and working after corporate America at onewomanseye. Joanne was born to first generation Greek-Americans. She lives in New York City. The Secrets They Kept is her first novel.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Rajaratnam’s Sentence Brings Closure to the Galleon Scandal

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 12:  Billionaire Galleon ...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeRaj Rajaratnam, who was convicted last May on charges of securities fraud and conspiracy, was sentenced on Thursday to 11 years in prison and a fine of $10 million dollars.

Rajaratnam led what has been described as the largest insider trading ring ever, building a network of high-ranking experts in key technology and consulting firms. It is estimated that he gained about $64 million from his actions.

With a motive that appears to have been pure greed, Rajaratnam used personal relationships to broaden his web. Many of his co-conspirators have been convicted and are serving or have served jail sentences. Danielle Chiesi, the femme fatale who excelled at luring secrets from her companions was sentenced to 30 months. Bob Moffat, formerly of IBM, was sentenced to six months in prison.

Eleven years in prison is a record sentence for an insider trading conviction. Nevertheless, at a time when Main Street employees (and the unemployed) are occupying Wall Street, the sentence seems to be too light. I’ll be the first to argue that not all Wall Street employees are corrupt – in fact, I believe most aren’t. But the few – like Rajaratnam – who profited big time from illegal activities, deserve to be treated like the criminals they are. What do you think?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Legacy of a CEO – Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs shows off iPhone 4 at the 2010 Worl...Image via WikipediaAt 6:15pm last night I received an e-mail alert on my iPad that Sarah Palin would not seek the presidency. At 7:42pm on that same iPad I received an e-mail alert that Steve Jobs had died. Noone is talking about Sarah Palin. Everyone is talking about Steve Jobs.

It’s rare that prime time TV is interrupted for the death of a CEO, but Steve Jobs was not your average CEO. He was a household name – not just because we carry around his legacy in our pockets and handbags – but because he changed the way we live our daily lives.

Chances are nearly everyone reading this has at least one product created by Jobs iconic company, Apple. Three out of five of my most-used technology gadgets are made by Apple. Chances are everyone reading this has an iTunes account, and has seen at least one Pixar film.

As a technology lover I am saddened by the loss of Steve Jobs.


Having worked in the technology industry – and new product development – I know how hard it is to not only innovate, but also deliver new technology. Especially difficult is the crystal ball. Oh, it’s easy to do market research to learn what customers need today – it’s knowing what we will need tomorrow (and the day after that) that’s the real challenge – and that is where Jobs excelled.

I can’t help but wonder how Steve Jobs mind worked – how he could see the vision of the future before any of us knew what we needed. It’s the vision I will miss the most. I don’t know what new technology I will be craving five years from now, but I am certain Steve Jobs did.