Coal Mines, Robots and Psychopaths – by Matt Levine (Bloomberg News – October 19, 2017)

Also personal ICOs, bond volatility and bank buybacks.

Rio Tinto – There is a certain rather exhausting set of characteristics that you would expect to find in successful chief executive officers. They dream big. They relentlessly pursue their goals. They have high expectations of their subordinates, demanding total loyalty and commitment and effort and creativity. They think outside the box. They don’t take no for an answer.

There is a problem with this list of characteristics, beyond how exhausting it is. Imagine the CEO of a mining company that buys a giant coal mine in inland Mozambique for $3.7 billion, and then finds out that there’s no way to get the coal to the coast for shipment. “Sorry boss,” say his subordinates.

“That mine is worthless now.” How would you expect him to react? Well of course he is going to demand that the subordinates find a way to get the coal out. Of course he is going to continue to believe that the mine is worth more than the $3.7 billion he paid for it. Of course he is not going to change his mind just because the government rejects his plans to barge out the coal, or because building a railroad to get it out would be prohibitively expensive.

Of course he is not going to be deterred by the negativity of the subordinates who tell him that there’s no solution and that the mine is worthless. Of course he is going to tell them that the problem is with their attitude, not with the mine. Of course he is going to tell anyone who’ll listen that the problems will be resolved and that the mine is, if anything, undervalued.

And then the subordinates will go back to the drawing board, put in 120-hour weeks, and, inspired by the CEO’s vision and commitment, will come up with a way to get the coal out. It will be a massive success, and the CEO’s most optimistic projections will be realized and exceeded. It will be taught as a case study in business schools.

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