Monday, August 31, 2015

Even the Mighty and Omniscient Larry Fink has Feet of Clay!

I have long regarded Larry Fink as Mr. Omniscient! As many of my readers know, he is the co-founder and CEO of the highly respected corporation BlackRock which, at $4.8 trillion in assets under management, is the world’s largest multinational investment management firm. Given the sheer size and reach of BlackRock, I believe Mr. Fink, together with his top executive team, must be knowing anything and everything there is to know when it comes to investments, which translates to knowing everything significant occurring on our planet, hence his presumed omniscience! Not surprisingly, whenever the BlackRock CEO makes an appearance on “Charlie Rose,” which is alas much too infrequent, I hungrily lap up every syllable that he utters. Yes, there is gold in his words. Did you know that, late last month, the Chinese government picked his brain for possible solutions to get its economy--the world’s second largest--back on track? 

A marquee statement that contains an astonishingly poor choice of words: Larry Fink’s last appearance on “Charlie Rose” (February 22, 2015) helped me realize that the saying “No one is perfect: Everyone has feet of clay” even applies to demigods, people of Mr. Fink’s preeminence. Toward the end of the interview (at the 47-minute mark in the 54-minute program), Charlie Rose zeroed in on a (perhaps recent) marquee statement by the BlackRock CEO, even displaying it prominently on the television screen. It read “We are maniacal about driving high performance but we are also a family. Our clarity of purpose is crystal clear, has never changed, and never will. (The emphasis in red is mine, for reference later in this post.)  

[Larry Fink’s response to Charlie Rose’s next question “What’s the clarity of purpose?” is not relevant to this post, but it contained salutary advice for long-term investors like me, so here goes: “To provide a better financial future for our clients, to help them think about outcomes… instead of focusing on noise in the papers…and on market volatility, which is meaningless. If you (have/ are focused on) a pension fund with a 30-year objective, does it really matter what’s happening in India or Greece today?”] 

Discussion of the poor word choice above and my recommendations: I am sure many of my readers will be struck by the redundancy--and the resulting inelegance--in the “clarity of purpose” sentence highlighted in red. “Our clarity of (such-and-such thing) is crystal clear” is no different to saying something like “the sincerity of my apology/ friendship/ advice…is absolutely sincere” or “the difficulty of task is extremely difficult.” There are many different ways Mr. Fink could have made that key statement with the same vehemence but correctly. Two alternatives, for instance: 

  1. Our clarity of purpose is a constant--has never changed, and never will. It is immutable!
  2. Our purpose is crystal clear (or, is unquestionably clear) and unambiguous/ precise... It has never changed and never will.
The second alternative sounds better, and is more penetrating, because the dropping of “clarity” from the beginning of the sentence allows me to reinsert Larry Fink's vivid and evocative phrase “crystal clear.” Still, if Mr. Fink wanted to emphasize the term “purpose” at the very beginning of the sentence, he could have used a variety of stirring adjectives. For example: “Our singular purpose is…” or “Our overarching purpose is…” or “Our defining purpose is…” and so on.  

What explains the kind of muddy wording, the redundancy, as in the “clarity of purpose” sentence (a clumsiness that I do encounter occasionally)? Too much passion and emotion clouding out clarity of language. But what amazes me most about this particular case is how come no one on Mr. Fink’s presumably highly talented team noticed the screwed-up language? Or maybe some did but succumbed to timorousness! 

Has Larry Fink’s glaring solecism dimmed my high esteem for his intellect? Not an iota! In fact, I can hardly wait for his next appearance on PBS. Given the many disturbing and tectonic events in recent months, and the ongoing tumult in China, a glimpse into his latest thinking would be like manna from heaven.
© Copyright 2015 V.J. Singal

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