Finance event bars billionaire Ken Fisher after sex comments: Not an 'old boys club'

Chip Roame didn't name names when he told the world that Tiburon Strategic Advisers was barring a speaker who made sexual innuendoes during its semi-annual CEO conference from future events. The managing partner didn't need to.

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Billionaire Ken Fisher's comparison of wooing money-management clients with picking up women in bars had made no shortage of headlines in the days since his remarks at the most recent event, which ended this week, and the founder of Fisher Investments had not only given an interview on the matter but publicly apologized.

If that weren't enough, Roame went a step further in a letter posted on his company's website, praising Alex Chalekian, the executive whose technical violation of conference policy with a Twitter video describing Fisher's remarks set off a social media furor.

"I can, in no way, condone or find acceptable what I heard in the way that I understood its intent," Roame wrote. "These comments further the inclusion problem in the wealth and investment management industry. And on a related note, I am disgusted to be included in phrases referring to old boys' clubs."

Tiburon, he said, is the opposite, and the firm has worked tirelessly to make sure women and minority CEOs are well represented at its CEO summits, held twice a year for more than 18 years. While the firm doesn't allow reporters at its conferences, the policy is intended to enable candid conversations, not cover up bad behavior, Roame said. It has removed dozens of prior attendees from its guest list for reasons including insulting comments, disrespectful remarks and attempts to make sales.

"I am not naming names today because this issue is not about one person," he added. "This is an industry issue."

While using sexual metaphors for deal-making is common, if not always welcome, in private conversations on Wall Street, the difference for Fisher is that he was a headline speaker at a three-day conference of paying guests chagrined by his comparison of money managers bragging to prospective clients with men showing their genitalia to women they're trying to pick up.

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The fallout illustrates the heightened sensitivity to sexual innuendo that high-profile executives with a reputation for blunt speech are negotiating in the #MeToo era.

During the past three years, allegations of sexual assault led to the arrest of movie producer Harvey Weinstein, while complaints of harassment prompted PBS to halt its broadcasting of the Charlie Rose show, spurred the ouster of CEO Les Moonves at CBS and led to the resignation of Sen. Al Franken, the Minnesota Democrat. The NBC network continues to reel from allegations against Matt Lauer, who has now been accused of rape by a former staffer. Lauer has stated the relationship was consensual.

The founder of Fisher Investments, which was created in 1979 and manages $112 billion for its clients, had nonetheless originally told Bloomberg News that he was caught off guard by the reaction to his speech at the Tiburon CEO Summit, noting that he had made similar remarks many times before.

By Thursday afternoon, however, Fisher was expressing remorse.

"Some of the words and statements I used during a recent conference to make certain points were clearly wrong, and I shouldn't have made them," Fisher said in a statement to FOX Business. "I realize this kind of language has no place in our company or industry."

Chalekian, the guest Roame thanked in his letter, said he was nonplussed when he realized what Fisher was saying.

"When I was listening to all of this stuff, I didn't know if this was a joke or what was going on," the founder and CEO of advisory firm Lake Avenue Financial said in his Twitter video. "My jaw dropped. So we need to change this -- we need to change it now."

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