Meet Chris, 1st Prize winner in SlideShare's Credit Crisis contest

December 9, 2008

Chris Hulls' entry, "The Financial Crisis: A Historical Perspective" won our recently concluded Credit Crisis Contest. Chris' entry was also his first presentation on SlideShare, so I'm sure all of us are a little curious about him. This short interview should help put Chris Hulls in perspective for us!

Tell us a little about yourself. Your background, where are you based, what you do for a living? Are you involved in the finance sector?

I finished school at Berkeley a couple years ago and am currently on deferral from Harvard Business School while working on a tech startup, Life360. My last job was a bit more fitting for this contest; I was doing investment banking at Goldman Sachs and was there when Paulson left to the treasury. I also worked just down the hall from Neel Kashkari, who is now running the big $700 billion bailout fund. I didn't know him too well, but it's amusing to me when I hear about the big Goldman conspiracies - Neel had only been there a few years and had just been promoted to VP (which is basically a mid-level manager at an investment bank). He didn't even have an office yet and sat in the same cubicles as the interns.

Do you design a lot of presentations? When and how did you create the presentation for the contest?

No, not too often. I did a lot during college for business classes, but I'm actually having to de-learn what they taught me; professors liked to see complex charts and spreadsheets which they used as a proxy for your level of effort. I fell flat on my face using that approach in the real world. I did my entry for the contest after one of your investors, Dave McClure, wrote about it on his blog. I've been in touch with him for a couple months but the last time we met I showed him a presentation that was still a bit rough. The contest was a good chance to do a presentation on something I'm passionate about while also putting a polished set of slides out there for him or anyone else to see.

Besides what you've said in your presentation, is there anything else you'd say about the credit crisis? Do you think it has been blown out of proportion or are the doom-sayers right?

I've been a Chicken Little for a few years now, and I definitely don't think this has been blown out of proportion. That being said, it's not this crash that worries me, it's the one that may come in 10, 50, or even 500 years. Throughout history, economic growth has provided a general rising tide that has smoothed over these bubble-reset periods, so it's never been too bad. The problem is, this expansionary trend can't continue forever, and it really scares me that every single politician out there talks about "getting the economy back on track," because the statement comes with the inherent assumption that things can grow forever. So the massive bubble that is coming is that of the Earth itself; whether it is global warming, general resource depletion, or overpopulation, we can't increase consumption indefinitely and very few people want to admit that.

Take a simple example. If we use carbon emissions as a rough proxy for consumption, we can get a pretty good idea of what is facing us. The average US citizen releases twenty tons of carbon per year, compared to around one ton for an ordinary African. Assuming for the moment that population growth is zero, if the third world starts consuming even half as much as us, they will have increased consumption by a factor of ten. Driving a Prius or recycling more won't put a dent in this. All the while politicians - even the progressive Mr. Obama - promise us the economy will soon start growing ad infinitum once again. I'm going to be a dooms-sayer until our leaders start abandoning the cult of perpetual growth.

Who are you inspired by when it comes to designing your presentations? Have you been influenced by other presentation styles? (on SlideShare or elsewhere)

Like a lot of people, I read Presentation Zen and Guy Kawasaki's blog - they really helped to break me out of the standard consultant-style PowerPoint deck. I think Tufte is also quite helpful, but is more relevant to people trying to present quantitative data-heavy information.

What advice would you have for people trying to design great presentations about similar topics? Do you think a different approach was needed given the subject?

I'd say know your audience. I suppose it is common sense, but it helps to step back and think about what your viewers are hoping to get out of your content just as much as what you are hoping to give them. For this contest, I think a number of approaches could have worked, but I specifically wanted to be broad, general, and a bit slapstick, because my key takeaway was that this bubble was really nothing new. If I started throwing in big words and numbers I'd be helping the politicians pull off their big lie that this crash was "so complex that no one could have seen it coming." And I would have bored everyone.

How long have you been using SlideShare? How did you discover it? Any experiences you'd like to share about the site?

I honestly can't remember when or how I started using SlideShare... but it has been a while. I think it is an awesome resource to get information on topics I'm interested as well as ideas and inspiration for presentations of my own. It was this contest that actually made me get over my procrastination and start a blog.