Management Turnover as Change Agent

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

MBIA Turns Back the Clock - Former CEO Returns

MBIA MBI and MBE (NYSE), the embattled bond insurer, turned back the clock and asked its former CEO, Jay Brown to return to help right the ship as the company becomes further ensnared in the sub-prime credit crisis (see letter Brown sent to shareholders). Brown's return seems to follow a recent trends where former CEOs are more and more being asked to return to floundering companies they left as CEO (e.g., Michael Dell, Dell, Howard Schultz, Starbucks). Brown's return is not exactly comparable to the previous two examples. This particularly the case when one considers the difficulties MBIA continues to face and the impact its difficulties can have on the financial markets.

Brown previously served as the company's CEO for five years. He left his position back in 2004 and was replaced by Gary Dunton. According to a story by Christine Ritchie in Bloomberg,
(Dunton) has resisted pressure to restructure the Armonk, New York-based company, will leave, MBIA said.
Brown on the other hand has made it clear he would consider a different tack. According to the Bloomberg story, Brown said,

"The market is telling us something,'' ... "The marketplace is saying it doesn't work well to have two stores selling these products under one roof.''

Brown will be tasked with restructuring and reviving MBIA, which places its AAA stamp on $673 billion of debt. The loss of that rating would cast doubt on rankings of all debt the company guarantees, potentially sparking higher borrowing costs for municipalities and leading to losses for banks that relied on the guarantees to bolster the value of subprime securities.
There is no question, MBIA had to make a change at the top. Bringing back Brown at least opens the firm to needed change. It is difficult to assess whether the firm would have been better off bringing in someone totally from the outside. Time will tell. Keep a close eye on all the players.

For more:

WSJ Deal Journal (2/21)
Seeking Alpha
New York Times
CNN Money
Houston Chronicle
CEP News

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