The unusual thing about the sexist comment from money-management billionaire Ken Fisher wasn’t what he said or how many people heard him—it was that he got into trouble for saying it. For at least a decade, the head of Fisher Investments, an empire that oversees more than $115 billion, has been known to make casual references to sex and genitalia in front of his colleagues and peers. People who’ve worked with him say the usual response to his inappropriate language is nervous laughter or awkward silence. He suffered no fallout when he said at a conference last year that his life’s regret was not having more sex, after comparing a mutual fund that brags about performance to a bachelor who walks up to a woman in a bar and asks her to sleep with him.
That response shifted in October when Fisher made a crude analogy between the art of wooing clients and seducing women. This time, the unwritten industry rule that values discretion and relationships above most everything else didn’t stop at least three people in the audience from saying they were floored. Then several clients started fleeing: pension funds in Michigan, then in Philadelphia, Boston, and Iowa; soon after, Fidelity Investments and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Altogether they pulled about $4 billion. It took two days after the conference for Fisher to apologize—at first he said he didn’t get what the fuss was about.