NPR’s Planet Money show has done a nice, typically even-handed and layman-friendly episode on the investing activity of Bain Capital.
Of course, that topic is in the news a lot because of the presidential candidacy of ex-Bain partner Mitt Romney, who’s alternately villainized as a corporate vulture or lionized as a job creator based on his record at Bain.
As always, Planet Money gives a very straight-ahead, accessible treatment to this topic — something that’s really difficult to find elsewhere, I think. They explain both the good aspects of private equity (taking big risks to revive companies that are already struggling) and the sketchier parts (piling secondary rounds of debt on a company’s balance sheet just for the sake of paying off investors, even before operations have started to throw off any additional profits).
Frankly, Planet Money doesn’t cover a lot of truly new ground for me as someone who’s an ex-business journalist myself. Mostly, I just appreciate how difficult the task of explaining these topics to a mass audience is, and I admire their aplomb at it.
This episode is good stuff not only for voters but also my fellow entrepreneurs. Frankly, I meet a lot of founders with great ideas and backgrounds in engineering, education, and other fields who could stand to brush up on how companies like Bain work as they raise money. Venture capitalist Fred Wilson’s blog is also great for that specific purpose.
Today I finished reading Moby Dick — one of those things I’ve been meaning to do for a long time but never quite got around to.
Glad I finally did. It’s an amazing novel, one I can probably appreciate more now that I’m a little older and not being made to read it by a teacher. That’s often such a sure-fire way to sour someone on a book, isn’t it?
Of course, anytime you read a great book, you always want to urge your friends to pick it up. In that spirit, here’s a link to download a free copy of Moby Dick via Project Gutenberg, if you like. Several different electronic formats available (C;
Just got through reading the obituary of Roger Boisjoly, a NASA engineer who argued strenuously against the fateful launch of the Challenger space shuttle in 1986. He said the rocket boosters’ rings wouldn’t withstand a launch in such cold weather. His superiors brushed him off.
I have to admit, I’ve never heard Boisjoly’s personal story before, though NASA’s organizational blundering surrounding the Challenger launch is infamous. One passage of his obit that really leapt off the screen for me:
The Challenger disaster and the resulting investigation pulled back the curtain on NASA’s internal culture, revealing a bureaucracy that had made safety secondary to its launch objectives and to the political support it needed to continue the shuttle program.
Boisjoly’s story is ultimately a parable about the evils of bureaucracy in general. If you just take out the name NASA and maybe change a few details, you could tell essentially the same story about a bunch of organizations harming real people. Anytime the people within an org prioritize something other than the task at hand — whether it’s pinching pennies on the budget, personal ego, or whatever — things always head south.
Hat tip to the great aggregation site Hacker News, where I discovered this story.