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Kim’s Campaign Continues

Kim Guardian1.jpgHere’s a little primer on how the world really works. Jim Kim is currently rowing furiously to keep his job at the World Bank. His five-year term ends next summer. One step his PR folks have taken is to generate a laudatory profile by a sympathetic journalist. But when journalists do research, their activities become known to others.

As a result, when the World Bank employee association learned that the Guardian was about to come out with Andrew Rice’s puff piece, it rushed out its own public letter critical of Kim, which was duly reported on by the unsympathetic-to-Kim Financial Times — thereby pre-empting the Guardian piece that came out the following day. As they say, the battle is joined.

Perhaps you take issue with my characterization of the Guardian profile? Why don’t we put that assertion to the test. Here is the entire section in the article about Jim Kim’s time as Dartmouth’s President. We all know something about that. Is the Guardian’s depiction accurate?

Kim left the WHO in 2006. After a stopover at Harvard, where he headed a centre for health and human rights, he was hired to be president of Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. He arrived in 2009, with little university management experience but characteristically high hopes. With the global recession at its zenith, however, Kim was forced to spend much of his time focused on saving Dartmouth’s endowment.

He hardly knew the difference between hedge funds and private equity, so a venture capitalist on the college’s board would drive up from Boston periodically to give him lessons, scribbling out basic financial concepts on a whiteboard or scratch paper. His tenure soon turned stormy as he proposed slashing $100m from the school’s budget and clashed with faculty members who complained about a lack of transparency. Joe Asch, a Dartmouth alumnus who writes for a widely read blog about the university, was highly critical of Kim. “He is a man who is very concerned about optics and not so concerned about follow-through,” Asch says now. “Everyone’s sense was that he was just there to punch his ticket.” Soon enough, a surprising opportunity arose.

The way Kim tells it, the call came out of the blue one Monday in March 2012. Timothy Geithner, another Dartmouth alumnus who was then the US treasury secretary, was on the line asking about Kim’s old nemesis. “Jim,” Geithner asked, “would you consider being president of the World Bank?”

Interesting, no? So Kim had “characteristically high hopes” for Dartmouth? Just what were they? I wrote a Dartblog post every day during the Kim administration, and I could not tell you what Kim’s “high hopes” were — and neither does Andrew Rice. Puff. Puff.

And just what does Rice mean exactly when he writes: “Kim was forced to spend much of his time focused on saving Dartmouth’s endowment.”? Does he mean anything at all? Dartmouth’s President is only involved peripherally in managing the endowment; Kim certainly was not making investment decisions, which, as the following paragraph in the Guardian story notes, he was manifestly incapable of doing.

Rice then artfully notes that Kim “proposed slashing $100m from the school’s budget.” Come again? Did he propose it, or did he do it? How cleverly vague. As this space documented when the College’s accounts came out, the three budgets prepared by the Kim administration increased spending by 3.0%, 5.1% and 7.7% respectively — rates of growth entirely in line with the profligacy of the Wright administration that preceded it. Total cumulative spending growth in Kim’s three budgets was 16.5% during a period when inflation totaled only 6.8%. “Slashing $100m,” indeed.

Of course, in a nod to objectivity, Rice quotes an unimpeachable source as to Kim’s self-regarding PR focus — me — but my broad, unsupported assertion in the article is more than counterbalanced by Rice’s various allusions to Kim’s supposed concrete accomplishments. I made the comment to Rice in March and he first quoted it in his Foreign Affairs piece Is Jim Kim Destroying the World Bank — or Saving it From Itself?, which became the Guardian story.

At least Rice is honestly objective when he writes “The way Kim tells it” about a call “out of the blue one Monday in March 2012” from Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner ‘83. Geithner supposedly asked if Kim wanted to run the World Bank. Ha ha. Or should I say Puff Puff again? Over at least the preceding year Kim had been disappearing from the College for weeks at a time as he pitched himself for DC jobs. His nomination was announced on March 23, 2012, and the first Monday in March of that year was March 5.

For Kim to claim that he was picked for the WB presidency without his own participation, then Geithner phoned him, and he was then vetted and approved in a little over two weeks is just not a credible statement. That’s not how Washington works. After all, it is not as if he was doing such brilliant work in Hanover that he spontaneously came to the attention of senior people in the Obama administration.

Notably, Rice spoke to nobody at Dartmouth — neither faculty members nor administrators. Had he done so, he would have heard a torrent of criticism about Kim and his team of crony administrators — all of whom quickly left Hanover when Kim departed.

All in all, our dissection of Rice’s article’s section about Kim’s time at Dartmouth should leave a reader quite skeptical about the rest of the content in the piece.

Addendum: The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Kim has already lined up the support of key players in his re-nomination effort:

Mr. Kim received informal backing from several major shareholders, including China, the U.S. and Germany, according to one of the people with knowledge of the discussions, bolstering the likelihood he will win a second term.

Give Kim credit for playing the smokey back rooms with the best of ‘em. Too bad that the people who work directly with him know the truth.

Addendum: An administrator who worked with Jim Kim at the College writes in:

I have no idea how Jim Kim has managed to persuade so many serious people that he is qualified to lead a major global financial institution, let alone find his way to shelter in a rainstorm. One of the best con men in the business…

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