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Mack, John J. 1944–

John J. Mack
1944

Former president and chief executive officer, Credit Suisse First Boston

Nationality: American.

Born: November 17, 1944, in Mooresville, North Carolina.

Education: Duke University, BA, 1968.

Family: Son of Charlie Machoul (mother's name unknown); married Christy (maiden name unknown); children: three.

Career: Smith Barney, 19681970, municipal bond trader and salesman; F. S. Smithers & Company, 19711972, bond trader; Morgan Stanley, 19721976, bond salesman, fixed income department; 19761977, vice president; 19771979, principal; 19791984, managing director; 19851992, head, worldwide taxable fixed income division; 19921993, chief operating officer; 19931997, president; Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Company, 19972001, president, chief operating officer, and director; Credit Suisse First Boston, 20012004, chief executive officer; Crédit Suisse Group, 20032004, cochief executive officer.

With 2002 revenue of $5.7 billion Credit Suisse First Boston (CSFB), once known as the venerable Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, was a unit of Crédit Suisse Group. Despite its European roots the company was a top U.S. investment firm, combining the investment banking prowess of its predecessor and of its parent. CSFB operations included investment and merchant banking, securities underwriting and management, research, securities trading, and top-ranked fixed income product services. John J. Mack was named CEO of the firm in 2001 and immediately began transforming the then beleaguered company into a lean, client-focused organization. His knack for cost cutting along with a refusal to coddle investment bankers was a reality check to an organization that was spending money faster than it was earning it.

EARLY YEARS

The son of a Lebanese immigrant, Mack learned from his parents the value of hard work. His father worked as a door-to-door salesman selling needles and thread and eventually opened a small store. Mack's mother cooked for sick people in the community. For a first-generation immigrant, life in a small southern town was not easy. A gifted athlete, Mack attended Duke University on a football scholarship and ran a late-night snack shop out of his dormitory room. His first job on Wall Street was at Smith Barney, where he started as a municipal bond trader and salesman. The next major firm he worked at was Morgan Stanley, where under his watch the bond-trading operation was consistently profitable. Mack's reward was a quick ascent on the corporate ladder. In 1993 Mack replaced the investment banker Robert Greenhill as president of Morgan Stanley, earning a reputation as a charismatic leader, brilliant dealmaker, and diligent cost cutter. The last trait won him the nickname "Mack the Knife."

INCONSPICUOUS EXECUTIVE WITH A COMPETITIVE STREAK

His 1994 compensation package totaled $2.5 million, but Mack avoided the lavish lifestyle common to many Wall Street executives. The main decoration in his office was a large painting of a woman swimming underwater. Mack's fiercely competitive streak, however, was a perfect fit for Wall Street. Fiasco, the 1997 book by Frank Partnoy, a former Morgan employee, featured Mack's testosterone-induced management style. According to Partnoy, Mack routinely paced the company's trading room, screaming, "There is blood in the water. Let's go kill."

In 1997 Mack brokered the merger of his firm and Dean Witter Discover & Company, adding Dean Witter's strength as a retail brokerage to Morgan Stanley's investment banking might. Mack ceded the CEO position to Philip Purcell, his Dean Witter counterpart, expecting to ascend to the top spot again. He resigned in January 2001 when Purcell refused to outline a succession plan. Three months later Crédit Suisse named Mack CEO.

TURNING AROUND A CULTURE

Crédit Suisse was the biggest challenge of Mack's career. The company was in dire need of disciplined management. CSFB was under investigation for breaching regulatory practices in the United States, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Japan, and India. The U.S. government was investigating CSFB's initial public offering (IPO) allocation. The West Coast technology banker at CSFB, Frank Quattrone, turned the firm into a technology-IPO powerhouse. In the post-Internet boom, however, these deals left the firm vulnerable.

Mack restored order. He shifted employees' focus from increasing the value of their bonus checks to delivering value for clients. Mack set about breaking down the silos in the firm, whereby units and executives in the company had been working in isolation. Mack sold the philosophy that teamwork, not big egos, would seal the company's success. Mack, who believed he could transform the culture in three years, told Patrick McGeehan of the New York Times, "It never came to my mind that I couldn't get people to change" (January 27, 2002).

Not everyone was on board. A dismayed employee told Michelle Celarier, of Investment Dealers Digest, "Mack is saying we're one firm. But these are people who enjoyed being left alone" (March 24, 2003). Others criticized Mack's management style. A former CSFB banker told Celarier, "Everyone repeats whatever he says; it's a mantra. If you go against him, he flips out."

LESS PAY, MORE LOYALTY

Mack's most impressive feat was reining in CSFB's out-of-control spending. He cut 10,000 jobs and eliminated more than $3 billion in costs. When Mack joined the company, an astonishing 60 percent of CSFB's bonus pool was guaranteed. He persuaded the firm's bankers to give back $421 million in cash pay, meeting with employees one on one. According to Patricia Sellers, of Fortune, Mack told the employees, "Look, we're not making money. We have a lot of young people here who aren't going to get bonuses unless you give up some money. It's about fairness and building a great firm. Trust me. I'll remember what you did."

At the same time Mack built loyalty. After one employee agreed to cut his pay package, Mack showed his gratitude. Knowing that the employee was an ardent fan of the Duke University basketball team, Mack had the Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski call the employee. According to Sellers, Krzyzewski, who spoke to the employee for approximately an hour, said, "I said to this guy: I'm best friends with John Mack. He's a cold S.O.B. I just want you to know that what you did today warmed his heart. That's what leadership is all about."

THE LURE OF A CHALLENGE

During the first quarter of 2004 CSFB's parent company, Crédit Suisse Group, reported that first-quarter profit was more than six times the earnings in the quarter a year earlier. Net profit soared more than sixfold to $1.4 billion, compared with a gain of $279 million previously, as business conditions improved. Mack told Fiona Fleck of the New York Times, "2003 was a critical turning point for C.S.F.B. We set out to be consistently profitable, and we were. I am confident that C.S.F.B. is now well positioned to build on its progress and achieve growth in 2004 as global markets rebound" (February 13, 2004). Turning CSFB into a profitable firm was Mack's obsession. He told Sellers, "This has been the biggest challenge, the most interesting challenge. 'Fun' is not the right word. Do you have fun when you work out? No. You do it because it makes you feel good afterward. It gets your blood pumping." In June 2004 Mack announced that when his contract expired on July 12, 2004, he would step down as co-CEO of Crédit Suisse Group and as CEO of Credit Suisse First Boston.

See also entry on Crédit Suisse Group in International Directory of Company Histories.

sources for further information

Celarier, Michelle, "Fixer-Upper: John Mack Faces the Challenge of His Life at CSFB," Investment Dealers Digest, March 24, 2003.

Fleck, Fiona, "Crédit Suisse Rebounds To a Profit," New York Times, February 13, 2004, Section W, Column 6, Business/Financial Desk, p. 1.

McGeehan, Patrick, "His Rallying Cry at First Boston: Smaller, Cleaner, Fairer," New York Times, January 27, 2002.

Partnoy, Frank, Fiasco, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1997.

Sellers, Patricia, "The Trials of John Mack," Fortune, September 1, 2003, p. 98.

Tim Halpern

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