It has been a time for scapegoats. First, it was the 31-year-old trader at Societe Generale who, given the bank's position, seems to have single-handedly lost $7 billion without anyone at the bank noticing. At Bristol Myers Squibb, it was Edward Dwyer, Bristol's longtime treasurer, who—-along with several mid-level managers–took the fall for the company's $275 million loss on trading of mortgage-backed auction rate securities.

First, let me be clear: Both these men must assume substantial responsibility for the losses their companies have suffered. This is absolutely the case with Jerome Kerviel, who violated trading rules the bank had established. In both cases, however, there is a bigger question to be put to senior management: "Who knew and when did they know it?"–to misquote the late Sen. Howard Baker during the Watergate hearings.

Dwyer was aiming to squeeze out extra yield; he's not alone in that pursuit. His was a case of excess–and there should be a real concern when treasurers start seeing themselves as traders rather than cash managers. But didn't someone other than Dwyer sign off on the investment policy and risk tolerance the company would accept? And until the company was losing money on these higher-yield investments, Dwyer must have been making money. Did anyone ask then how he was doing it? In the Wall Street Journal on Feb. 7, Bristol's CEO was quoted as saying, "Had I been smart enough to ask about that in detail in the fourth quarter, I'm not sure we would have avoided the loss completely, but maybe we would have minimized it." Isn't he being paid multi-millions to be smart enough? Apparently, neither he nor the CFO was aware of what Bristol's treasurer was doing with the company's cash.

Complete your profile to continue reading and get FREE access to Treasury & Risk, part of your ALM digital membership.

  • Critical Treasury & Risk information including in-depth analysis of treasury and finance best practices, case studies with corporate innovators, informative newsletters, educational webcasts and videos, and resources from industry leaders.
  • Exclusive discounts on ALM and Treasury & Risk events.
  • Access to other award-winning ALM websites including and

© 2024 ALM Global, LLC, All Rights Reserved. Request academic re-use from All other uses, submit a request to [email protected]. For more information visit Asset & Logo Licensing.