What we can learn from Jon Corzine

November 4, 2011: 4:03 PM ET

Quit while you are quietly behind.Jon Corzine

By Shelley DuBois, writer-reporter

FORTUNE -- Jon Corzine, what were you thinking? It's going to be tough to salvage the good parts of a long, lucrative career in finance after the dust clears from this current mess, even in its rosiest of outcomes.

Friday, Corzine announced that after about a year holding the job, he is resigning his position as CEO of brokerage firm MF Global (MFGLQ). He's chosen to head for the exit right after the company filed for bankruptcy and while it is under investigation by the FBI based on claims that it may have used clients' money illegally to get a handle on its numerous financial problems.

It's almost too easy to question some of Corzine's management practices after the fact. But this seemed preventable. In May 2010, two months after Corzine took charge as CEO, Fortune called out some of the company's potential problems, and questioned why on earth Corzine would take the job. No one knows the inner workings of the man's mind, but an analyst at Sandler O'Neil suspected in October that Corzine took on the turnaround challenge so he could be seen as "going out on top."

If that was his thinking, that should have been one of the brightest red flags surrounding his decision to take the job. It's common to think that you can make up for past failures by succeeding in the future. In the financial world, traders can easily fall prey to this thinking. But the greater the personal stake we have, the tougher it is to make logical choices. If Corzine joined MF Global with something to prove, he may have missed some of the warning signs on the brokerage firm's front door. More

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