Tuesday, September 18, 2007

History doth repeat itself

I remember being so angry when my college advisor informed me that a class in the history of western civilization would be required in order to finish my degree program. After buying 160 hours of college credit, I was in no mood to hear that I would be required to buy another freshman-level class in order to graduate. In typical 20-something, cut-my-nose-off-to-spite-my-face fashion, I made damn sure that I learned as little as possible in order to get my passing grade. Kids.

At the time, I had no idea how vital a knowledge of history would be to future success. I ended up paying far more to Barnes & Noble and Borders Books to get the education I needed. And I'm still a student of history. It surprises me on a daily basis to find out that more business dealmakers don't embrace it.

Like today, for instance. I just read a story in Dealmaker (which it served up from the Wall Street Journal -sub required) about how Merrill Lynch is preparing to lay off a bunch of folks at First Franklin Financial Corp., San Jose, Calif., a subprime lender the company bought for $1.3 billion about a year ago. As I read the story, I couldn't help but think that I had already read it. After a bit of thought, I remembered that I had.

The players were different. Back in 1998, the story was covered by Businessweek (and everyone else) and the institutions were The Money Store and First Union. The numbers were also slightly different (First Union paid $2 billion), but the story played out pretty much the same. See, no regard for history. Dealmakers.

In fairness, the Merrill Lynch fiasco hasn't played itself out yet and there is always a chance that something will be different this time, some little element or combination of them will conspire to change history this time around. I wouldn't bet on it. But then, maybe that's why I don't work on Wall Street.

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