Did "Macho Management" Ruin Iceland?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 10/15/2008 11:55:00 AM
I come to this tale of overly aggressive male managers leading Iceland to the poorhouse from a slightly different angle. During the course of my research, I have gone through quite some literature on microfinance. One of the more striking things about microfinance is that lenders often prefer lending to women borrowers as they are usually more responsible when entrusted with money. Women tend to allocate funds for socially productive purposes such as health, education, and household management while men are prone to spending on less productive things such as--how should I put this--wine, women, and song.

It would be an interesting cross-cultural study to see if these findings about lending to women generalize across cultures. Sometime ago (on second thought, make that a long time ago), Michael Edwardes coined the term "macho management" to describe testosterone-driven business cultures which emphasized risk-taking and aggressiveness over stewardship and long-term outlook. That Edwardes headed the doomed British Leyland pretty much says it all. It is interesting that the Financial Times article below discusses how many of the banking elite in Iceland were young male MBAs out to prove themselves to the world. It's a fascinating sociological exercise: did "Viking culture" updated for the Roaring Noughties doom Iceland to its current mess? There's a raftload of studies in the management literature suggesting less homogeneous teams are less prone to "group think" (let's buy up Blighty!) Not only would having more women in the upper echelons of management been more equitable, but it may have also seen to it that excessive risk-taking now rocking Iceland wasn't taken to such extremes:
Iceland has turned to two women to rebuild its financial system after the banking empire built by its young, male business-schooled elite collapsed. Elín Sigfúsdóttir and Birna Einarsdóttir are set to become chief executives of New Landsbanki and New Glitnir respectively, the nationalised banks created by the Icelandic government in the wake of the crisis [I love the "New" part].

One government minister said their appointments were an attempt to signal a new culture within the banking system. Landsbanki, Glitnir and Kaupthing – infamous for their aggressive international expansion – collapsed last week under the weight of their debt, leaving the Icelandic economy on the brink of bankruptcy.

Recriminations have been flying in Iceland over who is to blame, with the British government a popular target. But many have also criticised the young and predominantly male bankers whose “eyes became bigger than their stomachs”, as one banker conceded. “Now the women are taking over,” said one government official. “It’s typical, the men make the mess and the women come in to clean it up.”

The government created New Landsbanki last week and put Ms Sigfúsdóttir in place. New Glitnir was being formed on Monday, with Ms Einarsdóttir widely expected to take the top job. The banks’ new chief executives were both promoted from within the ranks of the failed banks: Ms Sigfúsdóttir has been head of corporate banking at Landsbanki since 2003 and Ms Einarsdóttir became head of domestic commercial banking at Glitnir last summer. The women are expected to curb the bonus-driven risk-taking culture that has taken hold in Iceland over the past five years.

The nationalised banks will focus solely on domestic operations, keeping money flowing around Iceland’s hobbled economy. A New Kaupthing is also planned. Their first task is to begin trading the Icelandic krona, an activity that all but ceased last week, leaving most Icelandic groups unable to pay suppliers.

The three failed banks’ foreign assets are being sold off but there is little idea how much money will be raised as they face firesale prices. When asked if the new banks would return to foreign expansion, Geir Haarde, Iceland’s prime minister, told the FT: “It’s too early to tell, but not in the same big way as before.”
It's also worth pondering if B-schools have glorified "macho management." Certainly, there is no lack of sporting and combat metaphors in the business realm.