Friday, November 07, 2008

Why I love the Lex Column

For the past 20 years, I have told anyone who will indulge me, that if they could only read one thing each day, that one thing should be the Lex Column in the Financial Times of London.

Why do I love the Lex?
  1. It uses case studies to teach

  2. It is not afraid to use an advanced technical and financial lexicon.

  3. It makes me feel smart

  4. It has a sense of humor

Let's look at each in turn. First it goes without saying that case studies, when done well, are very effective tools of instruction. Granted, Lex keeps the words to a minimum, but everything that is written is tied to a company, industry or goverment. The Lex column rarely invokes theory without a specific example. While it is true that the majority of comments are negative, I would argue that Lex uses the concept of criticism in its true Latin intent; "kritikos" means "able to make judgments." Yes, the English use tends to have an overtone of "faultfinder," but Lex always discusses what SHOULD be done. It is able to make a judgement and provide guidance.

Second, for those of you who studied business, and certainly all you MBAs and Finance types, the Lex is not afraid to apply the concepts of EBITDA, Discounted Cash Flows, Current, Quick and Debt/Equity Ratios, and Interest Coverage, in nearly every column. But they frequently take a step back to remind readers as to the definitions of these concepts. They explain how they calculate them, and how they should be used. They also regularly review common financial and business measurements and discuss their relevance (Basil II comes to mind). Last, but not least, they also discuss less robust rules of thumb for evaluation.

Third, and yes, this may be repeating the fact that the majority of the Lex is "taking the piss out of someone" (to coin an English expression), but when I read about how poorly others are doing, it makes me feel smart. I think, "no matter how tough I have it, or how difficult things are for me, it certainly seems much worse for that company's management team." I also feel like I am exercising my brain by thinking deeply about issues around the globe. The Lex will have both micro and macro-economic issues discussed daily. And when I don't know what they are talking about, I tend to dig deeper to learn more about an issue.

Fourth, Lex is funny. It is a classic educated English humor, but for me, it works. They start many of their articles with a turn of phrase. They frequently cite literature and history to establish a context and reference, and most of the time, it is not flattering. Granted, it is not a belly laugh funny, but at a minimum, Lex makes me smirk if not smile.

Hope I've convinced you!

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