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Mary Meeker, the One Still Standing

Apr 25, 2003 | Bloomberg

Henry Blodget, Jack Grubman, Frank Quattrone and Mary Meeker were Wall Street's best-known promoters of the Internet-telecom boom. A few years ago, they were spoken of in a single breath, and in flattering tones, but those times now feel as ancient as Mesopotamia.

For more than a year, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has made as good a political living off the three men as has ever been made on Wall Street. All three are meeting grisly ends.

Spitzer rooted out and publicized a few of Blodget's old e- mails, in a way that anyone who followed Blodget's career knew badly distorted the man's motives and character. Now Blodget is the subject of an NASD probe that may lead to a lifetime ban from the securities industry and a multimillion-dollar fine.

Grubman, the Caliban of Wall Street, has been fined $15 million and banished not merely from the securities industry but from New York City's private kindergartens, too. And while Frank Quattrone's fate is not yet known he was charged this week with obstructing a probe of Credit Suisse First Boston he faces the threat of penalties even worse than Grubman's.

Mary Meeker is the exception. She has not been fined, banned, or even asked by her employer, Morgan Stanley, to take a paid vacation. Eliot Spitzer seems to have abandoned whatever interest he had in ruining her career, or in singling out Morgan Stanley for its role in the boom.

Valued Pioneer

And Morgan Stanley's executives have clearly decided to stick by their most famous analyst. In early April, at the Morgan Stanley annual meeting, shareholder advocate Evelyn Y. Davis, a character made to order for some Hollywood screenwriter, used Meeker as a club to beat Morgan Stanley Chief Executive Officer Phil Purcell.

Davis pointed out that ``a lot of people lost money because of her. She should be fired.'' But while Purcell wilted beneath other blows from the 73-year-old Davis, he stood right up to her on the subject of Mary Meeker. ``We have a very different view of the contribution Mary made,'' he replied. ``She was a pioneer on the Internet. We value her research.''

`Wall Street Meat'

It's a curious situation, and it becomes a great deal more curious when you read a deliciously naughty new book called ``Wall Street Meat: Jack Grubman, Frank Quattrone, Mary Meeker, Henry Blodget and me.''

Its author is a fellow I've known for some time, Andy Kessler. But while I've known him for some time, I had no idea he was writing a book. One dark day the thing just showed up on my desk, and I breathed a heavy sigh another goddamn friend had gone and written another goddamn book and I was going to have to at least pretend to read the goddamn thing.

To slake my conscience, I picked it up and read a few pages. My heart sank: It wasn't bad enough to put down and lie about having read it. I read a few more and a few more. I finished it in a gulp, perfectly astonished.

Kessler, a former Wall Street technology analyst, worked with Grubman at Paine Webber Group Inc. and Meeker and Quattrone at Morgan Stanley. He finally quit in the 1990s to make a fortune putting money where his mouth was, actually investing in technology companies. He was right there, on the inside. He knew exactly how the Wall Street machine worked.

Having made his fortune, he now seems to feel free to say what he wants about his former firms and old colleagues. What he has to say will not particularly please them, but that is neither here nor there. It will interest the rest of us.

Pleasing the Bankers

``Wall Street Meat'' shows how the essential problem of Wall Street research was as most people now know that it ceased to serve investors and began to serve investment bankers.

Investors no longer paid the investment banks well enough so that they could afford to produce honest research, and so the investment banks figured out how to use their research to help the corporations that paid them far better. And the investment bank that forged this dubious new model was Morgan Stanley.

When Kessler quits Paine Webber to join Morgan Stanley, he only moves about a hundred yards down the streets of Manhattan. But in that little walk he travels from an old and dying Wall Street to a new and thriving one.

Ignoring the Monkeys

At Morgan Stanley, Kessler learns that he will be paid not by the brokers but by the bankers and that the banker who will make the most difference to him is Frank Quattrone.

Quattrone soon would leave Morgan Stanley, first for Deutsche Bank and then for Credit Suisse First Boston. But not before he found and created an analyst who, in Kessler's view, was a) desperate to be one of the boys, b) free of useful investment ideas, and c) willing to define her job as the pleasing of corporations that issued securities rather than investors who bought them. That analyst was Mary Meeker.

To Kessler, it seems clear that Meeker was particularly susceptible to her investment bankers because she had nothing interesting to say to her investors.

When she turned up at Morgan Stanley, she appeared to Kessler ``clueless.'' ``I told Mary that if she got the sales force right, it would be a lot easier with clients,'' he writes. ``But the warm comfort of investment banking had its lure. I could almost hear the calm, comforting words of Frank Quattrone telling Mary not to worry about those nasty guys in sales, because they were just monkeys with phones. The path to success at Morgan Stanley was doing deals.''

To which he later adds: ``Mary Meeker had an analytical crew she could count on to wade through due diligence and analysis of banking clients, but I don't think she ever felt comfortable with her own analysis. The bankers were her filters. Bad move.''

Let Her Be

There are a lot of theories to explain why Eliot Spitzer let Mary Meeker be. One is that it doesn't pay a politician to beat up women in public. Another is that Morgan Stanley's tech people somehow erased most of their old e-mails, and so Spitzer was unable to humiliate the firm with its own water cooler chat. (CSFB, which was far less central than Morgan Stanley to the Internet boom, wound up coughing up 10 times more e-mail to Spitzer's office.) Or perhaps Spitzer found nothing to suggest that in promoting the likes of Networks Inc. and, Meeker ever had anything other than investors' interests at heart.

Regardless of which theory you believe, Kessler makes one thing clear: Morgan Stanley, and Mary Meeker, knew no other way of doing business.

In his view, Morgan Stanley, having no tradition of pleasing investors, and no ability to do so, designed its investment bank without the investor in mind. Meeker and her bosses didn't know enough to have a guilty conscience when they sold out investors to please corporations. In a game like this, that's a huge advantage.

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