The reaction to money manager Ken Fisher's crude remarks at an investment conference in Dana Point, Calif., earlier this month shows that times have changed for the better.
Mr. Fisher, whose firm Fisher Investments managed at least $112 billion for institutional investors and high-net-worth individuals before the remarks, shocked the audience at the conference with comments about genitalia, and likened trying to win money management clients to "trying to get into a girl's pants."
Not only were members of the audience at the conference outraged by the remarks, but a video of Mr. Fisher's speech generated significant negative reaction when it was posted on the internet.
The reaction showed that good-old-boy boorishness and crudeness is no longer to be tolerated and covered up as it once would have been.
A surprised Mr. Fisher noted the change when asked about the remarks by Bloomberg, saying: "I have given a lot of talks, a lot of times, in a lot of places and said stuff like this and never gotten that type of response."
The reaction to the remarks has caused the firm to lose billions in assets and left a stain on its reputation.
Two weeks after Mr. Fisher's initial comments became public, at least six public employee pension funds and Fidelity Investments, the giant Boston-based mutual fund company, had fired the firm from their manager ranks, withdrawing a total of at least $2.5 billion.
The Boston Retirement System terminated Fisher Investments after a unanimous vote of the board of trustees. Fisher had managed $248 million in international equities for the $5.1 billion fund. The $74.5 billion Michigan Retirement Systems terminated Fisher Investments for Mr. Fisher's "completely unacceptable" comments. Fisher Investments had managed a $600 million U.S. midcap equity portfolio. The $5.4 billion Philadelphia Board of Pensions and Retirement and the $34 billion Iowa Public Employees' Retirement System also have terminated the firm, and others are likely to follow after reviews by their boards.
The reaction shows that crude, sexual or sexist comments will no longer be tolerated in the institutional investment industry as they might have been in the not-so-distant past. Such indiscretions will be punished not only with opprobrium but with the loss of real money.
At the least the change in attitude will help make for a more welcoming environment in the industry for women as boorish men realize they have to change their ways. And that is to be applauded.