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Steve Pardeux, M.B.A.

Monday, April 22, 2024

A drawing of four mushrooms

Deep in the shadowed valleys of the Dark Mountains, in a deep, umbral cave, there lived a dragon. The dragon slept, mostly. The dragon snored, too. In the depths of its slumber, in the depths of its cave, the dragon exhaled small wisps of flame, which flame briefly illuminated the deep darkness of the cave, which cave would then glitter in the darkness, glitter with gold in the darkness. Gold of all kinds and all shapes neatly lined little shelves on the cave walls. In the middle of the cave was a great mound of gold: coins, goblets, bars, ingots, statues, crowns, idols, diadems and daggers. On top of this pile was a giant memory foam mattress. On top of the mattress, the dragon. On top of the dragon, sheets of gold thread.
The dragon had been amassing its wealth for many long aeons. Its first batch of gold was stolen from the dwarves who had been foolishly mining in the Dark Mountains, ignorant of the proximal dragon. After this initial conquest, having acquired a taste for gold—and flesh (the dragon had previously subsisted on the Dark Mountains' abundant bounty of mushrooms)—the dragon embarked on raids farther and farther from its cave. It seized upon lone travelers, royal caravans, tiny hamlets and bustling villages. After each success, the dragon piled its winnings into a huge net and flew back to the cave clutching the net with its feet. Once home, the dragon picked out its favorite treasures to go on the shelves; the rest was dumped onto the central heap. Sometimes the dragon brought back leftovers, too, to re-heat later. These were stored in the snowbank just beyond the cave.
The dragon's infamy spread throughout the land, spurring brave and/or foolish knights to journey into the Dark Mountains to slay the dragon. The dragon killed and ate them all with terrifying nonchalance. Conveniently, these intrepid knights usually carried purses full of coin, allowing the dragon to steadily increase its wealth while going on fewer business trips.
And so it was for a long, long time. The dragon grew very, very wealthy. It slept peacefully on its mound of gold in the dark cave, content and satisfied.
But then one day there was a loud knock at the cave's entrance, followed by a loud shout: "Hello! Dragon? Anybody home?"
The dragon stirred unhappily in its sleep. Would-be dragon slayers usually crept in through the back entrance, hoping to slit the dragon's throat while it slept (Ha! As if their puny swords could pierce the dragon's thick scales!). The dragon was thus unaccustomed to visitors announcing their presence. The dragon was wary.
"Hello! Dragon?" called the voice again.
"Who's there?" said the dragon, its voice hoarse from sleep, yet still tinged with fire.
"It's Steve," said the voice.
"Steve who?" said the dragon.
"Steve Pardeux from Chovia Investments. I'm a financial adviser. Do you have a few minutes to discuss your plan for successful wealth management?"
"What?" said the dragon. It was still half asleep.
Steve Pardeux thought for a minute. "Do you want more gold?" he asked.
Now the dragon was awake. "Yes," it said. It quickly shrugged off its nightcap and sat upright in bed. "Do come in," the dragon purred.
Steve entered the cave slowly, cautiously toeing the ground in front of him before each step. It was dark in the dark cave in the Dark Mountains. His hands were raised defenselessly. The dragon blew a quick burst of flame into the brazier, which ignited instantly with a roar. Steve blinked hard in the sudden brightness. He now approached the dragon with more confidence, but still with arms upraised.
In the flickering light, the dragon studied this strange stranger. His brown leather shoes were caked with mud. Their frayed laces were no longer up to the task; thin vines of ivy were tied around the mid-soles, holding the shoes together. His thin navy blue pants were riddled with holes, pierced by thorns and spotted with patches of icy snow. His brown leather belt was in remarkably good shape. So was his thin yellow tie. His white button-up, though, was no longer white. Soon it would no longer be much of a shirt. His navy blue jacket matched the pants. If the dragon had seen Steve when he started out from the branch, it would have been impressed by his fanciful garments. Not so much anymore.
What fool is this to journey through the Dark Mountains to my cave without a full suit of armor or at least a decent coat?
thought the dragon.

An illustration of Steve approaching the dragon on its mattress

Steve Pardeux, M.B.A., the fool in question, took four more steps into the cave, stopping at the edge of the pile of gold. He slowly lowered his hands. The dragon noticed how cold he looked. His hands and face and even his scalp, which showed through his balding, close-cut hair, were bright red.
Perhaps I should warm him up,
thought the dragon.
"Hi," Steve began. "Pleased to meet you."
thought the dragon. It licked its lips.
"I came all this way," Steve said quickly, gesturing first at his rags and then out beyond the cave—Steve liked to talk with his hands—"all this long way because I thought that you would be interested in earning more gold than you ever dreamed of. You do like gold, right?"
The dragon wiped the drool off its chin. "Hmm," it said. "Gold? Tell me more."
"Well," Steve Pardeux, M.B.A., explained, "there are businesses all throughout the land that need some small amount of gold to get started and then once they have it, they can use it to make things that they can sell, turning the initial gold—an investment, if you will—into more and more gold. If you, Dragon, provide this initial sum, the businesses will share part of the gold they make with you. You can use your gold to make more gold."
The dragon had several questions. But first, it dug a golden throne out of the pile and offered it to Steve, who, much relieved, sat. Then the dragon fetched its favorite tea set from a shelf and made a pot of tea. And then it rested its massive head on its foreclaws and listened to Steve explain the basics of free market capitalism. The dragon was an attentive student and asked many astute questions. Sometimes, though, its mind would wander and its stomach would rumble. In these cases, Steve Pardeux would calmly remind the dragon of their shared objective: more gold. This seemed to work. At some point, the dragon roasted some mushrooms for dinner. With his belly full and his body warmed inside and out by the tea and brazier, Steve became more eloquent and persuasive.

An illustration of a teapot pouring tea into a mug

The dragon, however, remained skeptical for some time; it didn't want to give up any of its gold, even under a guarantee that it would get the gold back— and more! But now Steve explained that Chovia Investments was willing to make the dragon a loan using the gold as collateral. The vast pile would remain untouched (unless the market totally collapsed, but that was highly, highly unlikely, Steve insisted, nothing to worry about at all). Steve could see the dragon was warming up to the idea. He was excited. His co-workers back at the branch would never believe the size of his commissions.
"Now then," said Steve, "if you'll allow me to step out for a few minutes to grab my things, I would love to go over some options for your investment strategy."
"Of course," said the dragon. "Here, take this." It handed Steve a golden lantern and placed a glowing ember from the brazier within.
Steve walked briskly out of the cave and returned a few minutes later pushing a cheap looking desk in front of him with his left hand and pulling an ethernet cable, a phone line and an extension cord over his shoulder with his right. On the desk were a lantern, a desktop computer, a corded telephone and several Chovia Investments branded pens and notepads. A few of these branded items fell off the desk as Steve rolled it across the bumpy cave floor. Steve maneuvered the desk in front of his throne and sat down. He fiddled with the wires and the computer. The dragon was confused, and, in his confusion, hungry again.
What is this strange man doing?
it thought.
I wonder what M.B.A. tastes like,
it wondered.
Steve pulled a projector from a desk drawer and jumped back into his pitch with gusto, and now, visual aids. He showed the dragon colorful charts of the stock market's growth over the long term. He explained how, in the long term, and small dips were drowned out by the continual march of progress and profitability, that steady and reliable drumbeat of capitalism. He explained that for an immortal dragon, the long term meant essentially unbounded wealth, whole mountains hollowed out and filled with gold. The dragon tried to pay attention, but it was mesmerized by the beautiful light of the projector dancing on the cave wall. "I'm sold," it said. "Where do I sign?"
Steve Pardeux smiled and pulled out a stack of papers from another drawer. He handed the dragon a corporate pen. "Here," he said. "and here and here and initial here and here and a signature here and..."
At last, they shook, hand to claw.
The dragon tore off a corner of its mattress and set it up for Steve in a sub-cave off to the left. Steve promised to get a start first thing in the morning as soon as the markets opened. Then, satisfied and pleased with themselves, they both fell sound asleep.

An illustration of several cables and wires trailing out of the dragon's dark cave

In the morning, as promised, Steve made some phone calls and began fleshing out the dragon's portfolio. The market had been down, but Steve knew that it was the perfect time to buy. His intuition soon proved correct and the dragon's wealth began to swell.
Steve and the dragon settled in to a comfortable life together in the cave and sub-cave, growing fat on mushrooms, watching the numbers get bigger and bigger. The numbers, Steve had to remind the dragon every so often, represent gold. From time to time, Steve even took some of the dragon's dividends and bought various gold trinkets with them, on behalf of the dragon. With his own commissions, Steve had a new suit delivered and even splurged on grocery delivery once, even though the fees were outrageous.
Dark Mountain surcharge?
thought Steve.
What a rip-off!
But then one day, years later, the market took a sharp turn for the worse, sharper and worse than any previous turn Steve could recall! Steve only had two weeks before he owed the dragon his annual report—they had been seeing each other less and less these days. For the first week, Steve did nothing but pace around his sub-cave and hit refresh on his Bloomberg Terminal, hoping the lines would bounce back up. The Journal, though, was forecasting the worst. Chovia Investments itself risked going belly-up. Lay-offs were imminent. The government was no help, distracted as it was by the wyrms in the East. Also, the elves and the goblins had, somehow, set aside their differences and were threatening open rebellion. Things were bad; the dragon was far, far in the red.
Steve Pardeux, M.B.A., financial adviser to and wealth manager of dragons, was usually calm under pressure. Had his hands shaken when he entered the cave all those years ago? Had his voice quivered? Not an inch. Not a syllable. But now, now Steve panicked. With only a week to get things back on track, Steve made riskier and riskier bets. He leveraged and un-leveraged and re-leveraged. He consolidated and diversified and put and called and danced and wiggled. He finally paused for breath, only an hour before the meeting, and added (or, rather, subtracted) everything up. Steve quickly realized that it was over. The dragon's debts had piled up higher than the tallest of the Dark Mountains. It was a hole there was no climbing out of. The markets were in absolute shambles. Steve Pardeux expected everyone to give up on the whole damned thing tomorrow. He took a deep breath, put on his best tie—the yellow one he had arrived in—and went off to tell the dragon the bad news.
"It's bad," Steve began. He explained, as best he could, the dire situation. He maintained a calm, measured tone throughout until he got to the part about the—"—the—dare I say—criminal, nay, immoral, unprecedented, incomprehensible, nay, evil, evil inaction of the Fed! And notwithstanding the goblin-elf situation, or the wyrms, but notwithstanding any of it! And meanwhile—
—Chovia Investments! How dare they! Part ways? Pursue other opportunities elsewhere!? Bah! I'm the only financial adviser to dragons they'll ever get! Mismanaged funds? I'll show them mismanaged funds! Not enough time in the office? How would they like to commute through the Dark Mountains? How would they like it if their oxfords fell apart at the seams and they had to tie them back together with vines! And meanwhile the Fed sits on their pretty little hands! Their pretty little manicured hands going numb from being sat on all day long. Bah!"
Steve continued in this manner for some minutes, his flailing arms casting wild shadows all about the cave.
Eventually, the dragon pieced together that the lines had started to go the wrong way and that Steve was no longer allowed to try to make them go the right way. The dragon wasn't much bothered by this. Sure, the lines had looked nice and Steve had always promised mountains of gold just within reach if he was patient enough (and the immortal dragon could certainly wait), but all the dragon had really ended up with was a few more trinkets.
Oh well,
it thought.
I guess that's that.
"Hold still a moment," said the dragon quietly.
"What?" said Steve, pausing.
The dragon roared a pillar of flame straight at Steve, roasting him to medium-well. In two bites, the dragon gobbled him up, tie and all. A few weeks later, the debt collectors arrived to seize the dragon's collateral. The dragon ate them too.


Ensure you have the means to seize collateral before making a loan.
A healthier mix of bonds and foreign stock can keep a portfolio afloat during times of market turmoil.
The United States' abandonment of the gold standard in 1971 was a deadly mistake.

An illustration of the dragon turning Steve into toast

All illustrations by O.J. "Olivia" Johnson.