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The banker’s umbrella

Why is it so difficult to find a global director of social media for BlackRock?
05/27/20145 Comments

US Presidential campaigns take less time than BlackRock’s search for a Global Director of Social Media. The world’s largest asset management firm has been at it for donkey’s years. Every few weeks they’ll update the job posting on eFinancialCareers to make it appear new, but as sure as the sun will rise in the east and set in the west, BlackRock will remain sans social media director.

Surely it can’t be so difficult. With nearly a 140 000 followers on Twitter and over 110 000 on Linkedin, they have a pretty solid foundation to work with when it comes to social.

So what gives?

I’m not sure, but I do have a suspicion and that suspicion is that they are not sure of what exactly it is they want.
They have doubts with the candidate profile and they have doubts in the execution of their social media strategy. In other words they have no idea what type of person they want to do something they are not sure if they want doing in the first place.

When it come to the execution of social media strategy BlackRock doesn’t know if they want to protect their brand or if they want to promote their brand on social. One might think the two are not mutually exclusive, but they are two very different beasts and the answer to protect vs. promote is one that each large corporation must answer before it can do anything on social successfully.

If you want to see how a brand protects itself on social without any real intention of marketing or creating sales, then look at Goldman Sachs, they do a brilliant job: Jam every possible social channel with stuff on a consistent basis and if anyone does attack your brand (and with Goldman they do, consistently) it’ll be a difficult task to break through Goldman’s barricade of social filler. Job done.

But methinks that BlackRock wants to do something a bit more than just defend its brand. Take their Twitter account for example, if you look at the feed it does appear that they want to do something. They’ve got a quote of the day thing going which is always a driver for retweets and favourites, they try with catchy titles to get your attention and then click to their articles, but when you have nearly 138 000 followers and you’re averaging just a dozen retweets per tweet you have to ask yourself is your message getting out? The answer is that it isn’t and that’s why they know they need someone to do it properly.

That brings us nicely to finding the proper person for the job. Their number one problem in finding the right individual culminates in this:

“Minimum 10 years of experience in marketing / communications / content development roles with some experience in financial services industry”

Here’s a bit of free advice to BlackRock, that’s your mistake right there. You are looking for someone with a background and foundation in traditional marketing and there are two problems a firm will face when they employ a person from a traditional marketing background to run a pure social media role:

Firstly that person will have the wrong mindset and working routines.

Traditional marketing is about conjuring up a message, spreading it and hoping that the message will be well received by the recipients. Recipients meaning you, the people. Social doesn’t work that way. For anything to be successful on social it requires a dialogue, which is something that traditional marketing absolutely positively does not cater to and has no skills or interest in managing.

Secondly they are looking for a person who lacks relevant experience.

The problem with anyone with a long track record in traditional marketing is that they’ll have been employed by a corporation and as a result the individual (unless they’ve gone rogue like your humble narrator here) will have no experience with the inner workings of social media. The only way you can be successful on social is by actively testing what works and what doesn’t and then quantifying it, something that in a corporate setting simply can’t be done due to issues of governance, compliance and brand risks. (With the terms testing and quantifying I am referring to metrics regarding web, blog and social traffic plus overall engagement data analysis).

Social media is constantly changing and to be successful you have to constantly be learning and testing.

So as we can see, the human resources department in BlackRock is in a Catch-22 hiring nightmare.

On the done hand a corporation doesn’t want a maverick (neither should they employ one, mavericks like to blow things up and then see what happens). On the other hand if they really want to be successful on social media they’ll need someone who has pushed the envelope and quantified their experiences with the use of data in a non-corporate setting. Basically they need a… what’s the word I’m looking for? Ah yes, they need a maverick.

To put it in terms that a management consultant or HR person might find more palatable, what BlackRock needs is someone with a social media R&D background because that will add up to ROI.

As things stand now, the way BlackRock is going about it, I’ll be on my fourth wife, a second hip replacement and first hair transplant by the time they find a half way decent global director of social media.

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MiFID Compliant Social Media
05/20/20140 Comments

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Photo Credit: Flickr/Katy Kristin
Time for a lesson in law. Wait, wait, WAIT! Don’t go. Come back!

Behold my fellow soldiers fighting it out on the frontlines of the financial services industry, what I provide to you now will make you an expert on European financial law, it is in fact Compliance Kryptonite.

I will admit that it won’t help you score with the opposite sex but it’ll make you sound all kinds of professional and knowledgeable amongst your finance peers.

The below analysis is based on a white paper I am working on with Bridget Greenwood regarding legislation affecting marketing in global financial services. White papers tend to be terribly serious and terribly long and only geeks like me can be bothered to read them so I thought I’d do a Cliff Notes easy version here for you regarding European legislation, which is more commonly know as MiFID (Markets in Financial Investments Directive).
An appropriate theme as the European Parliamentary Elections are just around the corner. Remember to vote kids.

So let’s get started.

Every business case without exception involves a sales pitch, which involves some form of marketing. You all know this right? On the opposite side, from a compliance perspective, any business case, sales pitch or any form of marketing involves risk.

This is why MiFID is so comforting to compliance officers because with its complex language and acute detail, it’s the perfect piece of legislative armour to hide behind.

But is it?

I haven’t yet met a compliance officer who has actually read MiFID. I’m sure they exist… like the Loch Ness monster.

So let’s look at what MiFID really says about the use of marketing material, recommendations and investment advice.

The EU Directive on Social Media.

According to COMMISSION DIRECTIVE 2006/73/EC Article 52, which refers to investment advice, the article states:

“A recommendation is not a personal recommendation if it is issued exclusively through distribution channels or to the public.”

As stated above this is quite clear and unambiguous, however, there is a caveat. To be confident of full compliance with the directive it is important to know the exact definition under the article of the terms “personal recommendation” and “distribution channels”

Regarding “personal recommendation” the DIRECTIVE 2004/39/EC OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL Article 4(4)

“‘Investment advice’ means the provision of personal recommendations to a client, either upon its request or at the initiative of the investment firm, in respect of one or more transactions relating to financial instruments“

It is interesting to note here that to qualify as “investment advice” the recommendation has to be a personal recommendation.

We then come to the definition of a “distribution channel”, the definition of which can be found in COMMISSION DIRECTIVE 2003/125/EC Article 1(7).

“‘distribution channels’ shall mean a channel through which information is, or is likely to become, publicly available. ‘Likely to become publicly available information’ shall mean information to which a large number of persons have access.”

Not convinced yet? Well have a gander at COMMISSION DIRECTIVE 2006/73/EC (79)

“Advice about financial instruments given in a newspaper, journal, magazine or any other publication addressed to the general public (including by means of the internet), or in any television or radio broadcast, should not be considered as a personal recommendation for the purposes of the definition of ‘investment advice’ in Directive 2004/39/EC.”

Despite the fact that social media took off after the writing of these directives, due to the nature of social media, which is open and visible to the public, it is clear that social media, more than any other public channel (newspapers, TV, websites) qualifies as a “distribution channel” under MiFID.

Based on the above, from a legal point of view and according to MiFID, there is no legal impediment to using social media as a marketing channel for a financial services company.

Now go and tell that to your compliance officer and watch the life blood sap out of their body.

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What wealthy clients want
05/19/20140 Comments

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A.K.A I’ll tell you what you want, what you really, really want

There’s no blueprint for the perfect relationship. It starts with a look, some intrigue… a mutual attraction. Infatuation follows, breathless excitement and then commitment, perhaps marriage and kids. And then it’s happily ever after… or a messy, painful divorce! Been there done that and she even got the T-shirt off my back, long story and it pains me to discuss it so let’s get back to the subject at hand.

I haven’t morphed into a cross between the Spice Girls and a marriage therapist – I suspect I spent too long amongst the alpha males of private banking for that – and in fact the words aren’t even mine but those of Scorpio Partnership, consultants to the global wealth management world.

Now I’ve lived through enough visits from “consultants” in the past to know the form. They descend, en-masse, like vultures determined to suck anything useful from your brain before regurgitating it, piecemeal before the CEO – all, of course, for some handsome remuneration. Forgive my bitterness, I know that there are many intelligent – even nice – consultants out there, it’s just important to me in any walk of life to know why someone is qualified to speak on a particular topic and what actual hard data they have to back up their argument.

Scorpio Partnership, has both in droves and any old-timers around here will have heard me wax lyrical in the past about the determination to forensically uncover what the world’s wealthy want from their financial relationships and how the future of private banking might unfold.

This year, they have once again proved that (contrary to the opinions of many) it is possible to ask very wealthy people what they want, need and expect from their banks and wealth managers. The results, part of their ongoing Futurewealth series, are being released in the form of a four-part analysis of the customer experience journey and right now, part three is focused on the secrets of successful long-term relationships between clients and advisors.

So what do wealthy individuals want from their wealth managers?

Well, the answer to that million-dollar question will, depending on who you are, either be strikingly obvious or strangely hidden from view.

Take a moment to look at a chart lifted from Futurewealth 2014: Enhancing the customer service curriculum.
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Source: Scorpio Partnership, Futurewealth 2014

When asked what the most important element of a great wealth management experience is, feeling that an advisor has your unique needs at heart and is truly focused on serving you well is really important. In fact, client-focused service comes top of the pile.

I’ve been talking my throat sore to the grist of extra coarse sandpaper about this for years: Clients don’t care about performance, they think they care about performance, they’ll ask about performance, but what they really want is what every person wants: To be taken care of. The data above proves it.

Therefore it stands to reason that to some of the private banks offering wealth management services the above results might come as a bit of a shock. Not really a big surprise, because if I were to ask you to describe your idea of the traditional private banker the word caring would probably not be the first one to enter your mind.

Many banks still think fees, or investment performance is all that matters. What’s certain is that they are not yet convinced that it is absolutely vital to offer outstanding service to every single client.

How do I know?

Well, take a look at this chart that asks people to reflect on how well their wealth manager knows them:
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Source: Scorpio Partnership, Futurewealth 2014

Once we’ve taken a moment to see how generally satisfied customers in the Americas are, we can pause to consider the fact that in Europe and Asia two in every five clients don’t believe that their financial advisor has a good knowledge of their attitude to risk or financial goals and objectives.

These aren’t customers that pop into a high-street branch every now and again; they are high-net-worth individuals who pay handsomely for the chance to benefit from a wealth manager’s expertise.

How on earth can that benefit be maximized when the advisor doesn’t understand what makes that customer tick?

For me, now on the sidelines of the private banking game, there is an urgent need for wealth managers to listen to the client, to ask – via actual customer research – what those clients want and to deliver on those needs and wants in a way that provides a genuinely meaningful relationship.

The reward for clients will be better service and better performance in relation to their financial goals. The carrot dangling for the banks is loyalty, a greater share of a client’s assets and their advocacy and willingness to refer.

If you prefer the stick to the carrot, the risk of continuing to sideline the customer voice is that clients will simply shift their assets to someone who does listen. One thing that endures irrespective of wealth or geography is this: Unhappy clients can vote with their feet!
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Back To The Thingimy That Was The Original Idea Of This Whatsimy
05/17/20140 Comments

Recently I’ve taken a month long holiday from blogging and upon my return I’ve had a few rants on this blog about:

IMF money that’s about to go missing
People getting paid more than me
Using children and elderly as investment products
Employers snooping around your holiday pics

I even took time out to write the world’s best (and shortest) guest blog about SEO.

Probably about time now to get back to the real point of this blog: The Wealth Management Industry.

Still with me?

Good.

In the upcoming week I’ll have two industry related posts starting off with Scorpio Partnership’s latest Future Wealth Report, a great analysis of the future of the industry (clue is in the don’t you know). In the article you will discover exactly what it is that wealthy clients want… No, it’s not what you first think it is.

Unlike me, who just goes off on one at regular intervals about the financial industry, Scorpio Partnership actually has data and facts to back it all up, this makes them all kinds of competent and me a big fan. You should be too. They’re on Twitter as well, follow them now.

Later on in the week (in under 500 words) I’ll make you an expert on financial law capable of citing actual legal articles and clauses. You will be able to sound both knowledgeable and annoyingly smarty-pants and if you happen to work in the European financial industry, after reading the article, your Chief of Compliance will be putty in your hands.

Allow me to whet your appetite:

Question: What is the crutch all European compliance officers lean on?

Answer: MiFID, the most boring and soul sapping piece of legislation to ever be conjured up. Not to worry, you don’t need to read it all, because I’ve done it for you, several times. I’ll serve you a fresh plate of “L’Essence De MiFID”. I’ll put a bit of an interesting twist on it and as a result the next time you hear a compliance officer tell you “We can’t do this because it’s not MiFID compliant” you can answer “Aaah, not so, I read in the Banker’s Umbrella that according to MiFID article number…”

What I’ll reveal has been used in the real world on a real life compliance officer with a 100% success rate of stunned silence followed by a “Oh, right, okay, yes, you’re correct”.

So stay tuned.
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Companies Monitoring Employees On Social Media
05/15/20142 Comments

This I can’t help but find slightly worrying. Strike that, not slightly, but deeply worrying. It’s an article in the Wall Street Journal regarding the monitoring of employees activities on social media.

What has this got to do with financial services and why the heck am I blogging about it?

Elementary my dear Watson. Financial services companies are the ones who are blocking their employees from using social media during working hours, once they come round to the futility of this exercise, they are going to swing the other way and start monitoring their employees on social media and that’s where people like Nancy Flynn from an organisation called ePolicyInstitute will be asked to help.

Nancy Flynn (you won’t be surprised to learn) supports the idea of corporations tracking their employees on social media. Here’s a direct quote from Nancy Flynn:

“companies should ask for access to employees’ Facebook accounts and other private social media”

Let’s set aside the utter waste of money that this would entail in investing in various platforms that analyse employee behaviour on social media and then sitting about with middle-management drinking stale coffee asking if it was appropriate that Susan from accounts had gone to a rock festival in Denver and posted a photo of herself with a bottle of Jack Daniels in one hand and what appeared to be a self-rolled rather large cigarette in the other… and did you see her in that sleeveless dress? Did you know she had a tattoo of Betty Boo in a garter belt on her shoulder? This really does not fit with our brand. What are we going to do?
I sat about for a day or two pondering this blog post, because one could write a book about the utter stupidity of corporate snooping on its employees, but because I’m lazy, let me pick out what I think is the main point here. People who propose these kind of things, yes people like Nancy Flynn, show a complete lack of competence and understanding in the human condition.

You see, Flynn has a warped view of the world, because the fact of the matter is that none of us are one thing. We’re a lot more complex. Think about it for a moment, you behave and act differently depending on a multiple of factors; present company and environment being just the first two that come to mind.

This isn’t a newsflash folks, far smarter people than yours truly have studied this stuff. There are academic papers on it. Want a link? Don’t be so lazy, go Google it.

I will give you a real life example though. If my kids come home and they’ve had a bad day and the other kids in school haven’t played with them, like most parents, I’ll hug them, tell ‘em I love ’em and ask them to talk about it and try and be there for them and make them feel better.
If on the other hand, say my friend Dom (pictured right), tells me he’s had a bad day and none of the girls in the office played with him, and he feels like having a bit of a cry, I’d tell him to cowboy the hell up, bring on the Bourbon and let’s drink ourselves handsome. Different environments, different people, different behaviour. It’s called being human.

Denying your employees the right to be human is counterproductive to business, it’s expensive, it takes away resources from the corporation’s main business of making moolah and it stifles any kind of innovation as it builds a culture in which every employee is a corporate drone. Oh and one more thing, it’s just plain indecent.
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So the question is, does it make sense for a corporation to pay someone with such an elementary concept of human behaviour, to set up structures that analyse and monitor human behaviour?

I’ll leave that question rolling around in your noggin for a bit.

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Troubled Children And The Elderly As An Investment Opportunity
05/14/20140 Comments

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Photo Credit: Flickr/Ed Yourdon
I read an article titled “Now troubled children are an investment opportunity” in which it goes into depth how private educational companies are profiting from children with special needs. I found the article deeply troubling. I haven’t been able to shake it out of my head and based on the amount of retweets it received on Twitter I can surmise that the feelings of discomfort it generated is widely shared.

The article got me to reminiscing about a certain event when I was just starting out as a private banker, you know, young, lots of hair on my head and very little flab around the midriff.
My (then) employer chose as a stock pick a company that ran care homes for the elderly. Seemed to make sense to me and as a loyal soldier of my bank off I went in to the front lines of capitalism and started touting this company as an investment to my clients until… one client told me never to bring him any of these investments that profited by the death and suffering of others.

“Surely not” I said “Weren’t companies like this caring for the elderly?”
“No they weren’t” replied my client “Not as a priority they aren’t. Their number one priority is profit. When you offer me as an investment a business where the profit can be improved by cutting corners in the care of the old and dying I don’t want any part of it.”

His retort shifted my world view in an instant. He was right. The principle in my client’s statement was exactly the same as in the article regarding the business of investing via children with special needs. It shouldn’t be a business, that’s the point.

It’s not as if us bankers are short of investment opportunities. On my Reuters screens alone I’d have hundreds of different investment opportunities flashing in front of me, to be bought with a click of a mouse or a quick phone call: Currencies, commodities, ETFs equities, govvies, high yielders, funds, emerging markets, private equity and if it wasn’t on my screen we’d structure a product round it and off we’d go. Ching-aling-aling would go the cash register as we brought in the money and shopped for new cars.

My point here is this: A dog will run out of wee-wee before a banker runs out of investment opportunities. We’ve got enough. Because of this vast choice not everything in our lives needs to be bestowed as an investment market opportunity. Us bankers will continue to find interesting business cases and investments without having to sacrifice our elderly or our children so we can make a few more percent.
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Executive Compensation. This Just Ain’t Working
05/08/20142 Comments

How does a guy get paid $33 million for being useless? I mean quantifiably undeniably disastrous? Even the most ardent supporter of big pay for corporate execs has to yield and say “Okay something’s a bit off with this set-up”

The happy recipient of this EuroJackpot size payoff is Stephen Elop the former Nokia CEO. During his tenure thousands of people lost their job, the market value of Nokia tanked and profitability decreased by 95% (it must be true because I read it in Wikipedia)

There are those who argue that Nokia’s problems where known before Elop took the reigns. Fair enough, I agree, but wasn’t he supposed to come in and fix them? He didn’t, he failed. Miserably.

So how is it that failure can be rewarded with such massive monetary payoffs? While Stephen Elop is to corporate leadership what Basil Fawlty is to hotel management the issue is much bigger. Capitalism is busted.

The whole thing is broken. I’m talking the axel has fallen off and the battery has gone kablooie. This is something that can’t be fixed by a quick trip to a Kwik-Fit Fitter.
Capitalism has been hijacked. Shareholders no longer use their power and as a result, corporate boards have been invaded. Go and have a good look at the boards of large corporations, you’ll find them filled with former and current management executives. People in whose interests it is to perpetuate the myth of paying ridiculous amounts of money for mediocre ability.

The whole system is so incestuous that it looks like an Alabama family gathering, just that the overalls have been substituted by tailored suits and the moonshine with fine wine.

Don’t get me wrong, superior performance in a role of great responsibility deserves large compensation. I have no problem with that. Let the sky be the limit, and let the recipients be my clients, but seven-eight figure payouts in any other currency than the Zimbabwean Dollar to corporate Keystone Kops as standard operating procedure is an insult to hard work and the spirit of entrepreneurship.
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IMF Ukraine Bailout. What Will Happen to the Money?
05/06/20143 Comments

This will end in one way and one way only: A total mess with everyone involved blaming their predecessors and/or diving for cover.

The IMF has approved a $17 billion package to the Ukraine. They’re calling it a “bailout” but that’s just politicospeak for a “massive freebie”. In a year or few we will be reading about how “amazingly” and “unexpectedly” the bailout money has been siphoned off despite the IMF’s stringent controls.

Let me make a prediction here: 80% of that money will go into anything other than development and improving the economy. It will in effect be stolen.
The Ukraine is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. According to Transparency International Ukraine ranks 144 out of 177 countries. As if this isn’t bad enough, they currently do not have a legitimate government and as a cherry on top of the cake, they have foreign forces invading them and they are on the brink of civil war. Good times indeed.

All of the above is a long winded way of saying no one really knows who is in charge and whoever thinks they are might not be tomorrow.

Suffice to say, the country is in a bit of a pickle. In fact the only working infrastructure they do have is that of structural corruption.

The problem is that the bailout money is meant to prop up the economy and help it back to growth. For this to work as planned, while the economy is reforming, it would require the bailout money to oil the machine. Due to widespread corruption a very small amount of that bailout money will actually be used for what it was meant to be used for.

As a result of the money being stolen and not going to where it is supposed to go, the harsh IMF bailout criteria will hurt the average Ukrainian citizen, shrink the economy and destabilize the populace further.

On the other side of the coin there will be a small elite of Ukrainians who will be busy skimming the IMF money via a network of cross jurisdictional corporate structures where the money goes in to a local company and then after passing through several vehicles ends up in a respected Western bank (most likely in Europe) in the accounts of corporate entities. It’s basically an industrial production line type cleaning process: IMF money goes in one end and comes out the other end as money that has no possible link to the IMF.

If it wasn’t so blatantly criminal it’d be a thing of financial engineering beauty. (You can tweet that)

Actually, you know what? I’ll write a new blog post on how I’d skim the IMF money if I was criminally inclined (which I’m not) and if I was a Ukranian political insider (which I may be, you never know).
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Hiatus Over. Let’s get Cracking.
05/05/20140 Comments

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Do you ever get the feeling as you get older that someone speeds up the clock? Where did a month go all of a sudden? I’m convinced this game called life is rigged.

Anyway, now it’s time to take off the smoking jacket and slippers and put away the pipe (on account of health and safety) and get back to blogging and generally being busy about stuff.

To be fair, I haven’t been completely idle, I’ve been flying around Europe doing a bit of this and a bit of the other. One piece of other I have been involved with is The Radical Social. Yes I know, having a boring private banker involved in anything called “radical” is a bit like calling David Beckham a great orator. But it is what it is and we do what we do.

So what is the Radical Social? I was told in business school (or was it in the pub by a bloke called Stan?) that if you can’t tell your business proposition within one sentence, then your business proposition is useless. So here goes:

The Radical Social: A few amateurs who are better at social media than the pros.

There, I did it, can I have a pint now?

You should have a look at our site now and then pay us money to make your firm tremendously popular and profitable without you falling on your face. What’s falling on your face like on social media? Well just #AskJPM.

As for the other stuff. I’ll have a couple of posts coming up this week.

Executive pay and how capitalism ist kaput.
Ukraine. Yes I know it doesn’t sound finance related, but trust me, it will be.

So oodles of fun in store for the whole family this week so y-all come back now, ya-hear?

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Three Knock Outs And Russia
04/01/20143 Comments

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Picture by Ali Charmi. Filmmaking, Animation, Storyboards, Illustration
I am the only man on the planet to have knocked down a man in a fight three times without laying a hand on him. I think it is safe to say that not even Mike Tyson at his meanest or Bruce Lee at his quickest have ever equaled that.

What has this got to do with Russia and Crimea you ask? Patience dear reader, patience. All shall be revealed.

But let us begin at the beginning.

I was in my early twenties and it was summer. The sun shone, ladies wore not so much clothing and gentleman went about the municipality with a general air of satisfaction at the state of the affairs of the world.

In such situations of universal bonne humeur it is not unusual that friends are apt to gather and partake in a drink or two and immerse themselves in the overall okayness of this thing we call life.

My friends and I were no different. We made a base camp at the terrace of a local establishment, cold beers in hand and warm smiles on our faces. I sat down with my comrades-(no longer)-in-arms. We young gentlemen had recently fulfilled our duty to the Fatherland and through some strange quirk of governmental bureaucracy had received honourable discharges from the military.

Blessed with all this good fortune I am sure you can appreciate my overall air of contentment with my lot in life at that particular time.

Alas, this was not to last.
Just a few minutes after sitting down, along the road there approached three young gentlemen about a similar age to us. Just a few tables down there were a couple of young ladies with whom these three young gents stopped to chat with. It was clear they were all old friends and I wouldn’t have paid them too much mind but one of these gents was doing a rather impressive impersonation of a certain dance move Michael Jackson was famous for.

Now you may well think it is the Moonwalk that I am referring to but you would be mistaken. It was in fact that strange thing Mr. Jackson would do in which he would lean forward, his body rigid straight, heels firmly planted on the ground and thus appearing to defy gravity.

The thing that caught my eye was that this young fellow had improved somewhat on Mr. Jackson’s move. He first leaned forward, then corrected himself back and immediately proceeded to do the same move to the side. He continued in th…