Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Weight - The Band

Press Play;
The weight.mp3
Take a load off Fannie, take a load for free;
Take a load off Fannie, And (and) (and) put the load right on me.

Got up late this morning and walked into the bathroom. Thought it was weird that Debbie had the radio on at 9am on a Saturday morning. First thing she says to me is, "they took them over." I don't have a clue what she is talking about and look at her quizzically. "THEY TOOK THEM OVER." And then I know what she means. It was expected, but still I held out hope. Our former employer is about to become a true government entity. Sigh.

I feel very melancholy about this. It's hard to believe it's been 8 1/2 years since I walked out the doors of 4000 Wisconsin Avenue, and away from a 14 year chapter. The thickest chapter of my adult life so far, for sure. Fannie Mae was the place I grew older and up, the place where I met some of my closet friends and my real life partner. It was the place where I learned not to be constrained by what Jim Collins calls the "tyranny of the or" - mission and markets are compatible...indeed mutually reinforcing. It was at once a dynamic, frustrating, progressive, hierarchical, generous place that I came to love and loved me back.

Fannie and Freddie were a grand experiment - not quite fish, not quite fowl. Two entities developed to serve America's homebuyers while also enriching shareholders and employees. And now - for reasons that have been, and will be, discussed and gotten only partly right by the media - the grand experiment is over. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will become, for all intents and purposes, fowl. Not fish. In my mind, fish swim relatively freely in oceans and streams, they run the risk of getting eaten by the larger guys, picked at by the smaller guys, and caught by the fisherman. Fowl these days tend to live in a small yard or coop, get fed only when someone feeds them, lay a few eggs now and then, are constrained from flight, and their future is always dependent upon the benevolence of their "owner." Yes, the experiment went a-fowl.

And then there is the issue of the people who were counting on some form of Fannie Mae stock for their retirement or next chapter. ESOP? Nope. Stock options? Nope. Loyal shareholders who hoped Paulson's bazooka strategy would work? Not so much. And there are a million questions about pensions, retirees' benefits, and myriad other issues that are real to real people.

It's just so sad and disappointing. Pride, arrogance, a feeling of invincibility. They'll kill ya. And they did. Kinda like learning about John Edwards' dalliances, but worse. So much promise and historically so much value provided and created. As Robert Frost wrote, "nothing gold can stay."


Rob Spellman said...

It was an honor and privilege to work with you and my other friends at Fannie Mae.

We did amazing things that made a real difference in millions of American lives.

As you said, most of what will be written will be incorrect. Having gone through it at the local bank level, I know this all too well. The key for all current and past GSE employees is to remember just how much of a positive impact you helped to create.

RedBullMom said...

A "salute" of respect to what you did in your tenure there.