If every research firm had a Bill Meehan, then you never would have heard of Eliot Spitzer, there would be no turmoil at Salomon Smith Barney research and Merrill Lynch research wouldn't have disgraced itself.
That's because Meehan had a conscience. That's because Meehan was independent, wanting to bring in other views. That's because Meehan tried to
make you money
. He had no other agenda.
Oh sure, one can say that Meehan, who like 3,000 others, was murdered last year on Sept. 11, didn't have the constraints, the investment banking division or the legal problems that come from not having one voice speaking in lockstep about stocks. He was at the freewheeling Cantor Fitzgerald, which didn't have a party line on research.
That would be a misread of the man and the times. You see, no one dictated that Merrill Lynch be corrupt any more than anyone dictated that Cantor Fitzgerald be agnostic. Just having corporate finance doesn't make you corrupt. Again, consider the case of Morgan Stanley, which took no prisoners when it came to investment banking clients, and didn't compromise its ethics. (More on that in a later piece.)
More importantly, Bill Meehan got up each morning and tried to figure out how to make you money, or to save you money. That was his playbook. It was an uncompromising playbook, and, oddly, the one that individuals thought everybody played by.
Meehan, in short, couldn't be bought.
For me, these days, the world is made up of people who can't be bought -- who aren't on the take -- and those who are compromised and either know they are and don't care, or don't know they are and remain blissfully ignorant.
Meehan knew all of this instinctively. When you talked about research with him, he would know intuitively who was selling out and who was actually trying to make you money. He knew who had rigor and who was putting on airs. He knew who was a phony and who was a pro. Meehan knew who was on the take, and he knew who stood up to the interests on the Street that can hurt you, both at bonus and promotion time.
In short, Meehan was that simple, an honest man who never got tainted. That's why I liked the guy so darned much. If he thought you were selling out or letting investors down, he wanted to put you back on the straight and narrow. If he thought you were too bullish, recklessly bullish, he sent you an email that made it clear there still was time to repent. If you were too negative, he reminded you that things could go right on occasion.
Meehan was a conscience in a business in which conscience tends to be shorted pretty hard. He had character in a business in which character makes you appear eccentric rather than iconoclastic.
He didn't care. He knew what he was doing was right. How many of us know what we are doing is right? One year after his death, I think he would ask every one of us if we knew what we were doing was right.
We could use Meehan right now. We could always use a good man like Bill Meehan. Let's celebrate him, not mourn him, and let's ask ourselves how we can be more honest and less conflicted, as that's what the Bill Meehan I knew stood for. All the way.
(Editor's note: To read a collection of Bill Meehan's writings, and other colleagues' remembrances,
James J. Cramer is a director and co-founder of TheStreet.com. He contributes daily market commentary for TheStreet.com's sites and serves as an adviser to the company's CEO. Outside contributing columnists for TheStreet.com and RealMoney.com, including Cramer, may, from time to time, write about stocks in which they have a position. In such cases, appropriate disclosure is made.
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