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Norm R. Augustine
Technology/Civic Leader

Norm R. Augustine

A former president of the Boy Scouts of America and chair of the American Red Cross, Norm Augustine is the retired Chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corporation.

Planting Ivy in the Urinals

What a masochistic question to ask a businessman -- make that a male businessperson -- who has been happily married for 47 years. No wonder Spiro Agnew branded the media as nattering nabobs of negativism.

We all recall the infamous lecture on testosterone by Lawrence Summers, the (now former) president of Harvard. Although his remarks did create a great demand for repeat lectures, it turned out the honoraria left something to be desired.

Clearly, this is an issue better left to politicians than to engineers-become-businesspersons such as myself. The latter are, of course, trained to actually answer questions. This is largely a consequence of the fact that in politics it is dog-eat-dog whereas in business it is exactly the opposite. Remember that when Socrates went around telling people the truth, they fed him hemlock.

It is also appropriate to recall that when Copernicus discovered the sun really didn't go around the earth, it led to a bit of trouble for him. Happily, the church, just 449 years after his death, absolved him of his indiscretion. It is much like the caption of a National Geographic photo of an Antarctic explorer crossing a crevasse, tenuously balanced on an aluminum-ladder bridge, which read: "Don't worry, if you fall, 400 years from now you'll look better than the rest of us." I would hope that might be the case here.

So Copernicus, on occasion, rather astutely adopted the practice of writing, "Some say the sun does not go around the earth." A wise man, that Copernicus.

Thus, proceeding in the great Copernican tradition, some might indeed say things would be better had women been running Wall Street instead of men. It has been asserted that women are not subject to the need to display the size of their golden parachutes as a measure of their self-esteem. Further, they do not have the risk gene prevalent in males that stems from all those thousands of years hunting the woolly mammoth.

But then others might note that were it not for the male propensity to take risks the market would never have climbed to where it would be possible to fall from such a lofty height. Recall that a dollar invested in gold in 1925 (pre-Depression) would only be worth about three dollars today, whereas the riskier, male-oriented investment in equities is worth about $1,400 (post-recession).

At the very worst, the equity market can only fall another 44 percent relative to its peak--to do so would put it in negative territory and everyone knows that is impossible, especially those individuals who watch bond interest rates. Some might note that males do not suffer from the need to publicly display their worth by wearing it on their fingers, ears, necks, wrists and ankles. And many observers would note that males have suffered disproportionately from the current financial collapse anyway, with 80 percent of those losing their jobs thus far being male.

The male-dominated financial markets may have collapsed, taking with them the world's standard of living, and some 20,000 Americans losing their job each day. And the XY-chromosome-driven Congress is busily applying trillion dollar patches willy-nilly to the economy. But boys will be boys.

In these times one often hears snarky comments such as, "Which sex would be most likely to amuse itself by hitting a little round object and then chasing it so they can hit it away again?" Or, "Which sex enjoys taking part of a pig and then jumping on each other for the ego-assuaging privilege of claiming they possess the pig remnant?" Fortunately, in my case, I have a strong defense: a member of my family is a superb lawyer. (Unfortunately, my daughter says she won't take the case.)

But just recall which sex (used) to provide the most college graduates...or, turning to trouble-making, which sex has provided the most occupants of priso -- on second thought, let's not go there.

Moving ahead quickly, just think what it would be like if Wall Street were run by women. Some members of my Princeton class actually witnessed such a consequence at one of our reunions, shortly after women had been admitted to the university following only a quarter of a millennium of deliberation. Staying in a formerly male dorm that had been assigned to the new gender for its first year on campus, the (male) alumni were shocked, yes, shocked, to see that the co-eds had planted ivy in the urinals. Just imagine Wall Street's famous statue of the bull and bear wearing earrings.

So would the world be in better shape today had Wall Street been run by females instead of toxic-mortgage-prone males? To answer that question is to chose between being branded a male chauvinist pig by half the world's population and a weak-kneed wobbly wimp by the other half.

So where do I personally come out? Well, I wish I had time to say, but my wife just told me I have to take out the garbage now.

By Norm R. Augustine

 |  March 10, 2009; 10:47 AM ET
Category:  Women in Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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