Presented Without Comment

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Former Purdue CEO Mark Timney (L) and former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick (R)

Every day we run the Narrative Machine on the past 24 hours of financial media to generate a list of the most linguistically-connected and narrative-central individual stories. We call this The Zeitgeist and we use it for inspiration or insight into short-form notes that we publish a couple of times a week to the website. To receive a free full-text email of The Zeitgeist whenever we publish to the website, please sign up here. You’ll get two or three of these emails every week, and your email will not be shared with anyone. Ever.

Below are two of the most narrative-central articles in financial media today. I’m going to leave this here, as the kids would say, without comment, because I’ve been railing on this topic for quite a bit lately (Yeah, It’s Still Water, When Was I Radicalized?, The Rake, OK Boomer).

But I’ll just say this:

Regardless of your personal views pro or con, if you don’t see that a powerful narrative backlash is forming against corporate management enrichment, you’re just not paying attention.


CEO Named in Opioid Lawsuits to Reap $68 Million for Year’s Work  [Bloomberg]

“Mark Timney faces the kind of allegations that can end careers. The former Purdue Pharma LP chief executive officer is accused of playing a key role in fueling the opioid crisis, according to scores of lawsuits by state attorneys general and others. They allege that he directed staff to mislead doctors about the addictiveness of painkillers, which devastated communities across the U.S.”

“Last December, about 18 months after leaving Purdue, Timney became CEO of Medicines Co., a Parsippany, New Jersey-based biotech firm with an experimental cholesterol-lowering treatment for cardiovascular disease. Last week, Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis AG agreed to buy it in a $9.7 billion deal that’s expected to be completed early next year. Timney’s stock options and small stake in Medicines are valued at $87.6 million at the offer price of $85 a share. After excluding the cost of exercising the options and the money he paid to acquire the shares, his take will total $68 million.“


Uber’s former CEO Travis Kalanick cashes in another $93 million in stock as he separates himself further from the rideshare giant [Business Insider]

“Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick continued his ongoing share sell-off into December, cashing in more than $93 million after selling the company’s stock over a three-day period.”

“Kalanick’s combined sales now ring in at more than $1.8 billion since Uber’s post-IPO lockup period expired on November 6.”


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Flat Arthur
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Flat Arthur

I can certainly see the anger & frustration building. These two examples are especially interesting because under the surface neither of these seems to be a clear-cut example of egregious corporate management enrichment. In both cases it seems that the subject’s past behavior and poor public image are the critical ingredient that makes the story pop. Timney absolutely deserves to pay the consequences for his behavior at Perdue, maybe that means that he should be in jail or barred from the pharma industry? But, a CEO taking taking risk in a speculative business and then having a deca-million payday after successfully selling a business doesn’t offend my sensibilities. Presumably other employees received significant equity compensation and also did very well. (no subscription to BB Law, so I haven’t read the details) In Kalanick’s case, he founded a business that became huge & IPO’d at the peak of a ridiculous bubble in money-losing, sharing-economy, tech businesses. He may be an insufferable jerk, but if he asked me I would suggest that he cash out now too. Anyone who had a problem with his equity stake could have walked away earlier and possibly even at a significantly higher valuation. In any case, his good fortune was at least associated with taking real world investment risk. But of course, strong & growing narratives tend to trample nuance and details. I have a big problem with management in established businesses lining their pockets by means of equity compensation and then stacking the deck in… Read more »

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