Friday, March 14, 2008

Peter Lynch & The Culture of Greed

Fidelity Vice Chairman Peter Lynch recently settled a complaint against him filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Lynch was fined for receiving free trips and tickets.

Since Lynch likes freebies, I am surprised that he did not respond to my longstanding offer.

A one way ticket to Iraq.

I've written numerous columns bashing Lynch. His company peddled high commissioned products to soldiers during a time of war.

Fidelity sold contractual mutual funds. They had huge upfront loads. The funds were so bad that Congress finally outlawed them.

Fidelity pushed them in the military market and almost nowhere else.

When the sales practice was exposed, I offered Lynch a deal.

I offered to pay for Lynch to go to Iraq and take the place of a soldier who bought a Fidelity contractual fund.

I'm waiting for Lynch to respond.

Lynch might be inclined to grab my freebie if I were a Fidelity vendor. His lack of response may be because I'm not doing business with Fidelity and unlikely to be in the future.

There was a time when I sent Fidelity lots of business. When Peter Lynch managed the Fidelity Magellan fund.

Peter Lynch was the best mutual fund manager in the world. He had a reputation for integrity and honesty.

Something changed. Lynch retired as Magellan's manager and became Fidelity's Vice Chairman. He started hanging out with Hollywood pals like Lily Tomlin. He was in a position to know that Fidelity was peddling contractual funds to the military. He did nothing to stop it.

Squeezing profits out of soldiers never made sense. Fidelity is a huge company and the military is a small market. Fidelity sold the funds long after the unsavory practice was uncovered by the media.

In light of the Securities and Exchange Commission's case against Lynch, I now understand.

Lynch and Fidelity were blinded by a culture of greed.

Lynch set a poor example. As Walter Ricciardi, deputy director of enforcement for the Securities and Exchange Commission, said after Lynch's settlement, "the tone is set at the top."

Vice Chairman is as close to the top as you can get.

Fidelity's traders received more than $1.5 million in gifts, travel and entertainment. A 2005 Wall Street Journal article described a party in Miami that included Fidelity traders.

Party goers were supplied with private jets, female escorts and illegal drugs (Ecstasy). The vendors paid for a party activity called dwarf tossing.

After you done some Ecstasy and thrown a dwarf across the room, you can probably rationalize peddling high priced funds to soldiers.

As far as I know, Lynch was not at the bash in Miami but the Fidelity culture was set when Lynch started bumming free tickets.

When a top dog starts hustling freebies, it easy for others to justify it too.

It becomes also easy to forget that soldiers buying contractual mutual funds are being sent off to war.

Even though the SEC fined Fidelity $8 million, I still don't think that Lynch gets it.

Doug Bailey, a spokesman for Lynch, told the Wall Street Journal that the 14 Ryder Cup tickets Lynch improperly received, "had some real historical significance to Mr. Lynch because he used to caddy" at the course where the event was held.

I used to work on the clean up crew at the Kentucky Horse Park. I wonder if Lynch can get me 14 tickets to the 2010 World Equestrian Games? That would have some historic significance for me.

To help my sense of history, I would like a private jet. I can skip the drugs, "escorts" and dwarf tossing.

If Lynch can rationalize his Ryder Cup freebies, I can justify jetting with the rich and famous. I used to clean up after them.

And their horses.

Peter Lynch's grubbing sent a signal that everyone at Fidelity might look for handouts too. Or push improper products to soldiers.

As Mr. Ricciardi said, "it sets a tone."

I wish the SEC would have put me in charge of Lynch's punishment. He would have gotten his one way ticket to Iraq.

That would definitely set a tone. A tone that would snap Fidelity's managers in line . They would stop taking advantage of soldiers.

And tossing dwarfs.

Don McNay is the author of Son of a Son of a Gambler: Winners, Losers and What to Do When You Win the Lottery. You can write to him at or read his award winning column at