Thursday, August 30, 2012

What Became of Midas' Sons?

Despite one of my favourite old saws being "Never feel sorry for a guy with his own plane", I must shed a small tear today for the legendary insurance Hall-of-Famer Jack Byrne - the man responsible for the miraculous rehab of GEICO, architecting the sale of Fireman's Fund at the top of the market, and the construction of White Mountains into a powerful force in the industry. When in came to insurance, while not getting everything right (remember Olympus Re??!?), he has been pretty awesome.

On the home front however, things have not been going so well. One son, Patrick, tried to turn a couple of Hasids in Utah trying to move last year's merchandise into an internet household name, and, after squeezing and manipulating his own stock upwards became famous for paranoiac rants about aliens and naked short-selling when the market realised that the future for Hasidics in Utah is limited at best. OSTK is bumping along bottom now, and Byrne senior has long since jumped ship.

The other son after a stint in investment banking, and a hedge fund in which he was redeemed by his only investor - the Sage of Omaha - set up a reinsurance company Flagstone, which today, ignominiously sold itself to Validus for 70 cents on the dollar, and and about 3/5 of what investors' put into it (perhaps a touch more including some paltry dividends), reminding one of the joke "How do you make a million in the reinsurance business? Start with two million and give it to......"

One might wonder whether the Senior Byrne is thinking  of that other Old Saw - "From shirt-sleeves to shirt-sleeves in three generations...". But I think not. While the younger Byrne's clearly do not have dad's Midas-ian-Touch, that has not prevented them from feeding at the trough - clearly at their investors' expense.

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