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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

oPtion$ Book Club: Not so Much Ado About Backdating

Late to the party, I'll only note that I liked Options plenty, that some of the stuff I was thinking of has been thought of by my intelligent fellow-book-clubbers, and that it's an honor to be on the same blog with Dan Lyons.  Instead of going through all the reasons why I liked the book, I thought I’d focus my comments here on a difference, a scene, and a question.

  • Difference Options the book and Fake Steve Jobs the blog, although putatively written by the same person, are case studies in the different ways a writer can go with the same satirical fabric.  And here, it would be hard to imagine a more different difference.  FSJ is hero in one format and anti-hero in another.  The blogger is your gleefully truculent guide to Silicon Valley, bursting the hyperbolic bubbles that need to be burst, mocking the business plans that need to be mocked, and doing you the service of high-end media criticism in a part of the journalistic community that, it seems to this outsider, sorely needed it.  But the novel’s protagonist has a much more troubled mein.  Funny, yes, but confused, capricious, and increasingly unhappy as a legal investigation and business wrangling darken his horizon.  One advantage of the more internally directed version of FSJ lies in the opportunity to do things that you like to see in novels, such as dream sequences, metaphors, and story arcs. I’m not sure that the anti-hero goes through a catharsis at the end, but I did suspect that, after reading, that the novel format might lend itself better to an anti-hero than would a blog post.
  • Scene One thing about litigation practice is that it often turns into unlitigious (at least as far as the rules of civil procedure go) dispute settlement.  Options has a great scene near the end of the book where Jobs takes over a meeting with backdated-options-investigating prosecutors, starts hurling insults, and finally initiates an over-the-top bargaining process, beginning with “whatever profits you frigtards think I made that were inappropriate, I’ll give them back. Plus I’ll pay a fine of one hundred million dollars.  I’ll admit wrongdoing, I’ll do community service.”  Things get more extreme from there, to the point where FSJ concludes that the prosecutors are “not interested in settling this.  You want a big trial, You want the free publicity.  You want to launch a political career, and you’re drafting on my celebrity to get yourself some attention … and that’s what I’m going to say when the Wall Street analysts and the media start calling me.”  The prosecutors are double-plus nonplussed.  Jobs’s lawyer is going nuts.   My takeaway: nice depiction of a clash between deal-making and legal process, and maybe the whiff of legal realism added value too.
  • Question I took the book to be suggesting that it looked like FSJ was up to no good with the backdating.  But Lyons, in the post below as well as in the book, like everyone who looks at real backdating at real Apple, seemed deeply ambivalent about whether the investigation was worth the candle.  Would we really want Steve Jobs penalized for the way he is running Apple?  For that matter, how do we feel about the dual-class stock that lets the founders do whatever they want with Google?  Both of these things may be bad corporate governance in the view of a large portion of the academy.  But are they bad for business?  Is successful high tech where corporate governance mavens meet their Waterloo?  At least with the backdated, never exercised Jobs options, I suspect that my sympathies lie with Apple.


Posted by David Zaring on December 4, 2007 at 04:50 PM in oPtion$ Book Club | Permalink


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