China Is "The Great Future Growth Story of the World"
Steven Rattner led the Obama Administration's efforts to restructure the auto industry in 2009 as Counselor to the Secretary of the Treasury, having taken a break from his private investment firm Quadrangle Group, LLC. He has also served as Deputy Chief Executive Officer at Lazard, after having worked at Morgan Stanley and Lehman Brothers. Rattner was also employed by the New York Times for nearly nine years, principally as an economic correspondent prior to working in finance. He is author of "Overhaul: An Insider's Account of the Obama Administration's Emergency Rescue of the Auto Industry."
Question: How do you recruit and retain great talent?
Steven Rattner: As you said, finding and recruiting and retaining top talent is the single biggest, most important part of any business. I remember somebody saying on a panel once many years ago, and I’ve never forgotten it, that his principle of his career had always been to work for the best people he could work for and find the best people he could to work for him. And I’ve always tried to do this same thing as well.
And another business leader once said to me, “”A” people hire “A” people and “B” people hire “B” people.” And so I’ve always tried to surround myself with “A” people on the theory that they would hire “A” people. And I’ve always tried to work for “A” people. And in terms of hiring people, it’s really giving people a sense of empowerment, a sense of motivation, a sense of involvement, and of ownership of what they do. And of course, compensation is not exactly irrelevant either, but I think more than compensation, people really want to feel that they are a part of what they are doing, and that work should be fun. I believe that work should be fun. I would not do a job that I did not think was fun.
Question: Is leadership different in business and government?
Steven Rattner: There are significant differences, and this is where many business people who try to go to Washington, or vice versa, find it frustrating. Business is certainly motivated by one principle objective which is to be, have the enterprise be financially successful and so there is a very clear standard of accomplishment, there’s a very clear metric, there’s a very clear scorecard that everybody follows. And there is kind of a command-and-control organizational structure, which is not to say businesses aren't collegial, but at the end of the day, there is a CEO who can make decisions and move something forward.
Even the President doesn’t have that much authority within his organization. He has to deal with Congress. He has to deal with outside constituencies and with independent agencies. So government by its nature is a much more collaborative, consultative, compromising kind of management style than the private sector. And that’s something that people don’t always appreciate.
When you go into government, you really have to keep in mind the famous saying of "not let the perfect be the enemy of the good." If you can get something done that is positive you can’t torture yourself over the fact that it is not perfect because there are so many cooks in the kitchen when you are in government.
Question: Why are some many people attracted to finance?
Steven Rattner: There’s nothing wrong with finance. It is an honorable profession. I would be happy if my children or friends went into it. It’s an important part of society. Finance is the lubrication that makes the economy work, and there’s nothing at all wrong with it. I do hope and believe that even people who go into finance will keep some balance in their lives, get involved with non-profit, give something back, public service, however they choose to do it. I think there’s more to life than finance and there’s more to life than making money. But there’s nothing wrong with finance and there’s nothing wrong with making money.
I think that the attractiveness of professions waxes and wanes a bit, and finance has been very hot for a while, I don’t think that necessarily will always be so, and I think there are many talented people who are going into other businesses, such as a business like Big Think. I have many talented – I know many talented young people who are trying to make their career as entrepreneurs and startups and interesting companies that could be hugely transformational to the country. So, I don’t despair about it.
Question: What would you do if you were starting your career now?
Steven Rattner: If I were starting my career again, I would go to China. There was a famous newspaper man who, I think Horace Greeley, who once said, “Go West young man,” meaning go to the frontier because that where, in America, the great opportunity was. And that’s how I feel about China. I’ve only been there twice, I think, but I’ve certainly spent time trying to learn about it, meeting with people and it’s a very controversial subject because there are many people who think China is a big Ponzi Scheme or is on an unsustainable course, or this or that. I think China is the real thing. And I think it – I think it is the great future growth story of the world, for the foreseeable future of the countries anyway. And if I was just starting out I my career, whether I be a journalist or a banker or a businessman, or even a government, I would be focused on China.
Recorded September 23, 2010
Interviewed by Victoria Brown
Firms interested in recruiting and retaining talent and leaders should keep in mind the draw and potential of China.
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- Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
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- The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.
The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?
But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.
What's dead may never die, it seems
The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.
BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.
The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.
As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.
The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.
"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.
An ethical gray matter
Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.
The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.
Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.
Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?
"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."
One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.
The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.
"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.
It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.
Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?
The dilemma is unprecedented.
Setting new boundaries
Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."
She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.
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