Tag Archives: Meredith Whitney

Timing Isn’t Everything, But It’s Critical

One of the critical elements in defining a controlled process is to specify the performance standards under which it will be judged. Among the basic performance standards are:

–  Quantity (how much to produce, how many transactions to process)

–  Quality (how good)

–  Cost (at what value)

–  Time (due date, elapsed time to completion, incurred time to completion)

These all play off one another. They do not exist in isolation.  You want it now? It’ll cost you more.  You want it now? I can’t make that many. You want it now? Not at the requested quality.  The imperative of ‘now’ has important ramifications for any process.  And today, more than ever, the constraint of time and the imperative of ‘now’ is the performance criterion that seems to trump all others.

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Obama clearly understood the strategic imperative of time with respect to health care reform, but not the tactical implications of time in system implementation.  He understood that to avoid the long-term debt threat (not the faux short-term one) he must bend the health care cost curve, and he must begin now.  To improve the economy, he must get people back to work, and to do that, he must bend the health care cost curve, and he must begin now.  To avoid erosion of his initiative from relentless political attacks, he must advance it into reality so that it cannot easily be undone, and he must do that before he leaves office, and he must do that sooner before its intangible promise fades from public commitment under the withering fire of political assault; and the passage of time is not his friend.

What he and his team obviously did not understand, or would not acknowledge, was the tactical reality of producing a systemic platform to quality and quantitative standards within the time constraint of strategic considerations.  And here we are.  In such cases, time is not a destination, but a marker on a journey.  Best understood and communicated in that perspective. Too many CEOs fail to understand the limits of compressing time in the real world.

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Meredith Whitney misunderstood time in her failed prediction of collapse of the municipal bond market.  She may yet be right for all the wrong reasons, but she blew it by being specific about timing, and without caveating the prediction on critical collateral factors that would be necessary for the result. Two factors which probably contributed to blowing her timing were the ARRA program which pumped money into municipalities and in many cases did more to prop up sagging budgets than prime the economic recovery; and Quantitative Easing (QE) which propped up the stock markets and inflated pension portfolios that might otherwise have sunk further in value and forced more municipalities to the wall sooner.  The imperative of continuing QE likely has less to do with keeping Wall Street happy than with keeping fresh lipstick on the pig of state and municipal finances.  In this case, the injection of value has ‘bought’ time, but not necessarily results.  It may only delay the inevitable.

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I have previously written about timing and Clim-Ergy, the interplay of climate and energy issues. CO2 emissions and their consequences are moving on one time line.  Energy resources relative to economic and demographic drivers are moving on another time line. Renewable energy deployment is moving on a third timeline that needs to bend the first timeline before the second drives it beyond tolerable standards, and before the second plateaus and drives cost beyond tolerable standards.  Currently, there is no credible prospect that the third timeline will meet quantitative, qualitative and cost/benefit  performance standards within the necessary time standards, although that could change, but at the moment and in the foreseeable future, the odds are somewhere between slim and none.

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I recently convened a meeting in my community on the subject of affordable housing. A private developer has stated that a new apartment complex he is completing could never offer rentals at the comparatively low prices he is offering if he had to buy the land at today’s prices rather than its cost thirty years ago.  Interestingly, while he is attuned to the influence of inflation over time, he is apparently unaware of the time value of his sunk invested dollars over that same period of time, particularly at market rates of return.  That proves to be a major impediment in attracting private investors to affordable housing projects, because their need for return is greater within a specified time frame.  An alternative that I proposed is for the Town to buy the land and lease it, because it can be ‘patient capital’, and enhance the economics of the overall project, bringing in much-needed diversity to the Town’s demographics and economy.  That idea is a bit foreign in our community, but again it speaks to different perceptions of time and its value in monetary terms and collateral benefits.

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How soon do you need that ‘special something’?  The Big Box wants you to have it right now, if it’s worth your time and gas.  Jeff Bezos wants you to have anything in two days.    Why wait til Black Friday for those once-a-year Christmas sales when you can be thankful for them on Thanksgiving Day, assuming of course that you’re not a ‘sales associate’. In these instances, how much does time really matter, and what is it worth?

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How long is a ‘long’ war? Some would say any war is too long. The US public seems to think ten years is too much in Vietnam and Iraq-istan (a.k.a. Vietnam Too) . The Taliban thinks it’s just another day in Paradise. It’s more than willing to let the clock run out.  For the US military, the calendar has run out between those two competing perspectives.  Job not done.

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Time and education is a critical issue. Think about it. We have in our children a product that takes from 13 to 23 years to manufacture through formal education factories to a productive ‘resource’, depending on application. If one is preparing for a forty-year career, that is a reasonable investment, with hopefully a beneficial return on investment.  But if technological and economic and social uncertainties significantly truncate that timeline of application, it has significant impact on the choices and wisdom of the investment.

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Should Elizabeth Warren run for President and in possible primary opposition to Hillary Clinton?  For Hillary, time is running out.  For Liz, as for Barach before her, the time might not be right because she may not be ready with a broad enough portfolio or a sufficiently diverse and competent team to make ALL the right moves. But also, as with Barach, she faces a window of opportunity for her perceived critical issues that might not afford her the luxury of time to ‘ripen on the vine’ until ready.  Alternatively, she might be able to ‘borrow time’ by running with the ripened Joe Biden as his VP, pressing her finance issues while broadening her portfolio for a subsequent run.  Can women wait til 2020 for the first woman president in our exceptional society which has taken longer than most to advance a qualified woman to that position?  Or is it more important to sacrifice quality for time?

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Do you want to live to be 100?  It’s not just a question of time, but also a question of quality of life and cost/benefit (to me, not to the medical-insurance complex).  Maybe in twenty years my perspective on those two factors will change, but right now I’m gunning for 85 and out!

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And let’s not forget time and love.  Diana Ross sang that you can’t hurry it.  Mike Jagger (the taliban-ista of love) opined that it was on his side. The Outsiders sang it won’t let them wait that long. It’s all a matter of perspective.

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The value of time is not the same for everyone, but it must be understood, and the understanding must be communicated clearly, whether it is with an employer, a client, an investor, a society, a lover, or one’s self.

Thank you for giving me your time.