That’s the problem with people: exaggerated pride and self-confidence. We may start out humbly, but if we’re successful we assume that our skill or strength or smarts had something to do with our accomplishment. So we become arrogant, reach too far, and fall.
In ancient Greece hubris was the greatest of all sins. When Icarus learned to fly, hubris led him to soar higher and higher, until he flew too close to the sun, where its heat melted his wings and he plunged into the sea. When Casseopeia boasted that she was more beautiful than the sea nymphs, the gods sent a monster to ravage her kingdom.
It must have been hubris, then, that led BP to boast of its being the greenest of all energy companies. How else to explain the moniker, “Beyond petroleum?” It must have been hubris that led Bear Stearns’ management to seek employees with PSD degrees: “poor, smart, and desirous of wealth.” Now BP’s symbol is a giant oil slick, and Bear Stearns is synonymous with “bailout.” Bear angered the finance gods; BP provoked the energy gods.
In business, as in investing, an essential element is modesty. Even after you’re successful, a healthy skepticism keeps you from overreaching. Hubris would lead you to boast, which would anger the gods. You don’t want to do that. Just ask BP or Bear.
Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA
Chief Investment Officer
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