Great article on Paul O'Neill on yesterday's NYT Magazine (requires registration)
January 14, 2002 7:58 PM   Subscribe

Great article on Paul O'Neill on yesterday's NYT Magazine (requires registration) O'Neill has been taking a hammering in the media and on Wall Street. There has been O' Neill Death Watches too. But I have always admired what he achieved in Alcoa. And now finally an article that does justice to him .....
posted by justlooking (8 comments total)
I'm guessing this is a different Paul O'Neill.
Sadly, this is the first one I think of when I hear the name.
posted by Grum at 8:32 PM on January 14, 2002

Fleshing O'Neill out as a human being isn't a bad idea, as the author of the article seems to genuinely like and admire him. But it's difficult to believe that O'Neill is so naieve about his actions and their consequences.

He seems to portray a faux shocked attitude that the press would condemn his holdings in Alcoa. I'd understand this to be the case had he not been chairman of the company. He had to know, though, that as a public figure, be that of the government, or of a private company such as Alcoa, that his actions would be highly scrutinized.

And while he explains that a lawyer told him he could keep his holdings in Alcoa, yet not suffer from a conflict of interest, his intent on doing so seems to clash with his earlier discussion with his children about the money.

I think, largely, O'Neill's biggest problem is his own stodgy, stubborn attitudes and the way he expresses them. A few weeks ago, when he was on Meet the Press, I found it difficult to like the man, let alone his policy decisions. Perhaps he was wincing from Russert's criticisms and attacks, but someone who was a former chairperson, I would think, would be able to handle criticism better.
posted by Psionic_Tim at 9:45 PM on January 14, 2002

too bad o'neill had to retire this year. i think he was a great player.
posted by suprfli at 12:08 AM on January 15, 2002

He is astonishingly--refreshingly--frank. "Companies come and go. It's ... part of the genius of capitalism,'' said Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, when asked if he was surprised at the sudden collapse of Enron.
posted by Carol Anne at 5:31 AM on January 15, 2002

I thought the impressive thing about O'Neill highlighted in the article was the extent to which he went to make the workplace a safer,better, more profitable place to work for the ordinary workers in Alcoa and what he is doing now to change for the better the way Treasury department has traditionally worked. It is not easy to change a large stodgy institution the size of treasury.

The article does mention that O'Neill's bluntness and lack of political correctness may not be the best thing working for him in DC. But it also seem to have demonstrated that he is earnest, genuinely wants to do good and has an impressive credentials at bringing in positive change. Most of the battering he is receiving is for being honest about his views. Most politicos would typically not say those things out aloud and would rather give out meaningless cliches.

I haven't seen the 'Meet the Press' event that O'Neill attended, can't comment on that.
posted by justlooking at 7:04 AM on January 15, 2002

grum: me too.

i saw the link and was all like, "who's been hammering paul o'neill? he may be a yankee, but he's really a stand-up guy. i thought everyone loved him. especially with his retiring and all, people have been inclined to celebrate his contributions guys are talking about enron again, aren't you?"
posted by mlang at 7:38 AM on January 15, 2002

"Companies come and go. It's ... part of the genius of capitalism,''

I'm in the UK so know nothing of this guy but I'm confused by it all. Am I being naive or is it part of the 'American way' that nobody seems bothered the only people who appear to have gained from Enrongate are the very people who screwed it up (and I'm not suggesting any underhand dealing - not yet anyway).

Is 'blatant unfairness' part of the "genius of capitalism" as well.
posted by niceness at 8:35 AM on January 15, 2002

-'Enrongate' is a disaster and a scanadal. In an ideal world, the key execs should be held responsible and should be punished. But looking at the lineup of expensive lawyers hired by them, that doesnt appear likely.

-A lot of republicans from the business world hold the views that O'Neill articulated in that quote. While I dont consider myself suppotive of the republican party (Not that it matters, I am from India), I do believe that 'Companies come and go'. That's market economy for you. A developed country like USA should ideally have a social welfare cushion to help rank and file workers migrate to better jobs. It should also have checks and balances to make sure that 401k savings of workers dont vanish like it did in Enron.

-But all of it doesnt detract from the fact that when a company fails because of its own contradictions, its inability to run it well, in a 'capitalist' economy its not the government's job to prop it up. O'Neill didnt have the verbal dexterity to present it properly. Less kindly put: he has a foot in mouth syndrome. That doesnt demonstrate his lack of competency in handling his job(unless you think that is all there is to the job).

-One of the points raised by O'Neill in that article was (it was kinda long and probably not the right link for a forum like this), in the long term what he says or his perception of things doesnt effect the market in a big way.Its the fundamentals of the economy that matter a lot more than personalities or wall street. It is very different from the cult that Greenspan et al has developed.

-O'Neill seems to have a done a lot more to develop a more open, more egalitarian and worker friendly environment in Alcoa than many others who pay lip service to welfare. He also appears to be doing more to increase worker safety, accessibility of senior execs Treasure than most others before him there.

It is possible that he doesnt have the right attitudes for succeeding as a public servant. Diplomacy is surely an important skill to have. But I always felt O'Neill is punished in the media (incl.traditional republican bastions like WSJ or NRO) more because he doesnt conform to the standards set by the ol boys and for not playing according to the rules than for anything else. I thought that the article demonstrated it aptly.
posted by justlooking at 1:51 PM on January 15, 2002

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