Friday, October 09, 2009
[It seems like we stopped making fun of Countrywide and Angelo Mozilo years ago, but, apparently it was only about two years, this October 03, 2007 item being a prime example of why they were such an easy target.]
Does Countrywide Financial (NYSE:CFC) have a blog? If they do, a comment similar to this one is likely to appear there sometime in the weeks ahead:
Hey Nation! It’s not too often I get really excited about a bracelet–what usually happens is they end up messing up circulation in my hand, then I can’t feel my hands, then I can’t really feel anything because I need my hands to feel in the first place–but I have to admit I’m pretty psyched to get myself one of Angelo's LENDSTRONG bracelets. And you better believe I’m taking it to my jeweler and getting a few more links put in that bracelet!The above is a slightly modified comment that originally appeared at the Colbert Nation blog following the launch of the WRISTSTRONG campaign by Stephen Colbert of the Colbert Show after he sprained his wrist in a widely seen on-air slip.
He then saw fit to have some fun with the incident by promoting "wrist health".
Do the folks at Countrywide watch TV? Do they know that the last national campaign featuring plastic bracelets was from a comedy show and not cancer survivor Lance Armstrong who popularized the LIVESTRONG bracelet?
You can still get a WRISTSTRONG bracelet here, as seen on many celebrities over the last few months - part of a running joke on the show.
Nation, the Wall Street Journal reported($) earlier today that the beleaguered mortgage lender , Countrywide Financial, has launched a PR campaign that involves issuing bracelets to employees who sign a pledge to help turn the company around:
Having suffered a barrage of negative headlines while battling to shore up its finances and shrink its work force of 60,000 by as much as 20%, the nation's largest home-mortgage lender is launching a PR blitz aimed at repairing its reputation. And it starts inside the company.Here's the transcript(.pdf) which appears to be in the free section of the WSJ - note the part about "manufacturing".
For the demoralized employees who remain, the new campaign means wristbands with the phrase "Protect Our House" and pep talks promising to keep "amply" rewarding the most successful among them amid a struggle with the sharp drop in mortgage lending as defaults soar and house prices decline.
Rick Simon, a Countrywide spokesman, said the transcript was sent to employees Friday. It says that employees are expected to sign a pledge to "demonstrate their commitment to our efforts," and Mr. Simon says about 11,000 have signed. Each employee who signs up receives the Protect Our House wristband made of green rubber. "We believe there's a great story about the strength of the business," says Mr. Simon.
Our challenge today is managing our business in this new environment, meaning, we need to operate in a significantly reduced market, focusing more than ever on manufacturing quality, and at the same time preparing ourselves from continued, unwarranted attacks regarding our viability and what has ultimately come down to protecting our reputation.Don't you just love it when a mortgage lender in our "over-financialized" economy describes what they do as "manufacturing"? Naturally, the whole bracelet thing was the much more interesting part of the story, but "manufacturing" at Countrywide gets an honorable mention.
Hmmm... no mention of fending off warranted attacks regarding their dumb internal PR campaign. Maybe that will come in the next memo.
And, with all the commotion of recent weeks, Countrywide President Angelo Mozilo has been remarkably restrained with his stock sales. It looks like about 15,00 options were exercised a couple weeks ago.
They were probably in the money and about to expire - completely understandable.
Full Disclosure: No position in CFC at time of writing.
UPDATE: 10/3/2007 at 9:10 AM
In writing on the same subject, David Gaffen at the WSJ Marketbeat blog recalled the 1990 hit by Twisted Sister, focusing on some of the very loud words in the memo rather than the bracelet ... interesting.
In a memo to employees, executive managing director of residential lending, Drew Gissinger, writes that “our ethics, morals, and what we stand for are being questioned,” and says (in all capital letters, mind you), “WE’RE NOT GOING TO TAKE IT!”In a note to David, I commented, "they really need another PR team looking over the work of the original PR team that is trying to restore the company's image."
Dee Snider comparisons aside, what shouldn’t be ignored is that the sharp decline in shares has less to do with hurt feelings than with the falloff in earnings, concerns about funding, and the overall health of the housing and mortgage businesses.
“The people remaining at CountryWide are being asked to forget that their CEO has sold tens of millions of dollars in stock,” muses Doug McIntyre of 24/7 Wall Street.
But no matter, as it must be “personal,” as Mr. Gissinger puts it, even though nine of 15 Wall Street analysts have “hold” ratings on the stock, with the remaining six dividing equally between “buy” and “sell” recommendations.
Oh, and by my count, as depicted in the chart above, it's over $200 million in stock sales in 2007 alone, though, admittedly, some credit is due to Angelo Mozilo for showing remarkable restraint over the last month or so.