The state of Michigan has pulled about $600 million in retirement funds from Fisher Investments after sexist and crude remarks by its founder and CEO, Ken Fisher, leaked out at the closed-to-the-media Tiburon CEO summit last week.
“Fisher took the stage at a summit for wealth and investment industry leaders in California and stunned the crowd by comparing the process of gaining a client’s trust to ‘trying to get into a girl’s pants’ and also talking about genitalia. He has been trying to explain his remarks ever since, apologizing repeatedly,” writes Gwen Everett for Bloomberg.
“Among many who regularly attend industry gatherings, the surprise in Fisher’s remarks was that he spoke them into a microphone. In interviews, financial professionals, including more than a half-dozen women, said they hear such comments at many events -- but it’s usually after the formal presentations are done and crowds regroup in networking sessions, restaurants and bars,” Everett points out.
Jon Braeutigam, who as Michigan’s chief investment officer is ultimately responsible for the fund's $70 billion in assets, notified the state investment board of the decision in a letter dated Oct. 10 that was published by CNBC.
Michigan Department of Treasury’s Bureau of Investments “became aware of this situation last night after reading an industry news article and, after leadership discussions this morning (and more verification), all were in unanimous agreement that prompt termination is the correct course of action,” he wrote, for what he earlier characterized as “completely unacceptable comments” by Fisher.
“Fisher, 68, had been previously honored at the Tiburon CEO Summit and has written 11 books, regularly writes newspaper columns on finance and has a net worth of $3.7 billion. His conversation on the main stage with Chip Roame, managing partner at Tiburon Strategic Advisors, was a keynote event open to all 220 participants. There were no competing panels,” Katie Mettler wrote Thursday for The Washington Post.
“But almost as soon as his session began, attendees said online and in interviews with The Washington Post, Fisher used the spotlight to make crude, inappropriate remarks, including comparing his wealth management strategy to picking up women for sex. Roame, who moderated the discussion, did not intervene or ask Fisher to stop,” Mettler continued.
But the backlash was swift after Alex Chalekian, the founder of Lake Avenue Financial, wrote “I'm truly disgusted” atop a video he posted on Twitter at 2:18 a.m. Tuesday in which he called Fisher’s fireside chat “a true debacle” and “absolutely horrifying.”
“On Wednesday morning 7:45 a.m., before the start of the second day of Tiburon CEO Summit XXXVII, I took the stage and announced that the speaker who made these remarks will not ever be invited back to a Tiburon CEO Summit,” Roame wrote in an open letter posted online Thursday.
“These were unacceptable words at Tiburon, in the wealth & investments industry, and in society generally. Furthermore, these comments further the inclusion problem in the wealth & investment management industry. And on a related note, I am disgusted to be included in phrases referring to old boys clubs. Tiburon is the opposite,” Roame maintained.
“Fisher was initially defiant amid the backlash in an interview with Bloomberg, in which he said that attendees had mischaracterized his comments, and that he had ‘given a lot of talks, a lot of times, in a lot of places and said stuff like this and never gotten that type of response,’” CNBC’s Emma Newburger reports.
But by Thursday, his representatives had a statement expressing contrition.
“Some of the words and phrases I used during a recent conference to make certain points were clearly wrong and I shouldn’t have made them,” he said. “I realize this kind of language has no place in our company or industry. I sincerely apologize.”
Meanwhile, “in a letter to employees on Friday, Fisher Investments chief executive Damian Ornani said the firm plans to start a diversity and inclusion task force. In a separate letter to the staff, Mr. Fisher apologized and said he understood that his comments reflected poorly on him and the firm,” Jeff Benjamin writes for Investment News.
“Mr. Ornani defended the firm’s commitment to women and cited favorable statistics about females in leadership roles at the firm. The CEO said the firm has the same commitment to its female employees as it does its male employees. He said 30% of the firm’s managers are women and 23% of the vice presidents or above are females. But he said the firm could do better and the new task force would examine all aspects of the state of diversity and inclusion at Fisher,” Benjamin adds.