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Kim Watch: The Knives Flash

Following the Financial Times’ story on Monday about the ongoing chaos at the World Bank, the paper followed up with an editorial yesterday. What Monday’s report did not say directly, the commentary says straight out: Jim Kim is not up to the job.

Restructuring hell at the World Bank

Jim Yong Kim should get a grip on the troubled institution

When Jim Yong Kim was appointed to head the World Bank he was hailed as an inspired choice who would help to renew its purpose. Two years later, the bank is in turmoil and there are growing doubts about Mr Kim’s grip. Far from restoring its relevance, he has unleashed a restructuring hell that has demoralised staff and entrenched doubts about its long-term role.

Mr Kim still has time to turn the bank round. But he will need to make it far clearer what he is trying to do. Too often, the instinct to reorganise is a substitute for strategy. With this week’s spring meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, it is the right moment for Mr Kim to spell out the method behind the apparent madness.

morale is at rock-bottom. Mr Kim has fired several senior managers and even reinstated ones that he has fired. The top 48 division heads have been asked to reapply for their jobs. Meanwhile, the bank is crawling with overlapping consultancies. It is one thing to have McKinsey advising you. It is quite another to have former UK prime minister Tony Blair’s business entering the equation. The latter’s inclusion demands explanation.

All of these developments come amid Mr Kim’s drive to cut costs by $400m in the next three years. Yet there is a feeling among staff that Mr Kim himself is exempt from the austerity. The FT has reported that Mr Kim has taken 13 trips on private jets. There may have been no commercial flights available, as Mr Kim says. But the perception is damaging.

Removing Mr Kim at this stage would only add to the confusion. He must now make the best of it. But his self-generated problems underline why such jobs ought to be filled on merit. It makes no sense in today’s world for the US to retain the stale bargain whereby it appoints the World Bank president and Europe has first right to choose the IMF’s managing director.

If there is a silver lining to the bank’s turmoil, it is this: the Bretton Woods institutions belong to the world. From now on, they must be headed by the best people available. [Emphasis added, happily]

To date criticisms of Kim voiced by various people have focused on his specific policy and managerial choices, but sources at the Bank tell me that underlying all of the unrest is the understanding that Kim is an arrogant, manipulative liar who has little real expertise in running an institution.

But then, we have known that at Dartmouth for close to five years now, n’est-ce pas?

Addendum: Monday’s FT piece contained a note that will elicit knowing looks from anyone who wonders why Dartmouth alone among the Ivies uses Microsoft software rather than market-leading Google Apps:

Another example is the technophile Mr Kim’s unhappiness, when he first arrived at the bank, with its Lotus Notes email system. At considerable expense, he alone was switched over to Microsoft Outlook. The bank says it was a trial for eventually switching all of its staff and declined to disclose the cost.

Jim Kim a technophile? Ha. But, give the guy credit. He’s still a persuasive salesman.

Addendum: English cartoonist Kipper Williams saw where things were heading when Kim was chosen to run the World Bank:

Kim Cartoon1.jpg

Addendum: In David Brooks’ column in the Times he talks about the power of curiosity and about people who dig deeper in understanding their subject. He refers to the contrasting type of person — a type that we all recognize:

If you are primarily motivated to make money, you just need to get as much information as you need to do your job. You don’t have time for deep dives into abstract matters. You certainly don’t want to let people know how confused you are by something, or how shallow your knowledge is in certain areas. You want to project an image of mastery and omniscience.

On Wall Street, as in some other areas of the modern economy that I could mention, this attitude leads to a culture of knowingness. People learn to bluff their way through, day to day.

Some folks get through all of life like this; for others, there is a day when the music stops.

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