What is a 'Baptism of Fire'

A baptism of fire is a critical, tense situation that is often the deciding factor of the success or failure of a person, business or nation. A situation like this has the power to either weaken or strengthen the entity involved. 

BREAKING DOWN 'Baptism of Fire'

The term is commonly used to describe the first time a person or other entity experiences a harsh, stressful situation. When the difficulty has passed, the end result can be success or failure, and this can further strengthen or weaken the person or entity. 

Origins of the Baptism of Fire

The phrase "baptism of fire" is rooted in Christianity and has its origins in Matthew 3:11, the third verse in the 11th chapter of the Book of Matthew in the New Testament. The verse relates to the preachings of John the Baptist, who speaks of the fiery trial of faith that endures suffering and purifies the faithful. 

Baptism of Fire by Type

A baptism of fire can be used to describe any number of critical situations for people, corporations or even nations. For example, a new chief executive officer (CEO) can face a baptism of fire when he is hired to manage a struggling company or even to take care of hostile takeover attempts. Similarly, a business may experience one when it is going through an initial public offering (IPO) — or the very first time it issues stock to the public.  Or an entire country may experience a baptism of fire if it is undergoing economic or political reform, especially under a new leader. 

Baptism of Fire Example

Timothy Geithner underwent a baptism of fire during his first months as U.S. Treasury secretary. Geithner, who was once president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, was first nominated to the position by Barack Obama in 2008 and was appointed to the position in January 2009. Geithner was a key player in the government's response to the 2007-08 financial crisis that threatened the global economy. Some of his actions included bailing out AIG, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. He was instrumental in creating the bailout fund — Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) — that injected billions of dollars into Wall Street. His actions earned him a lot of criticism during his early months as Treasury secretary. 

Facebook's baptism of fire came after the company first went public. The company held its IPO on March 18, 2012, and was deemed the largest technology IPO in history at that time (it was later eclipsed by Alibaba, which was then topped by Snap). It offered almost 422 billion shares at a price of $38/share. The IPO raised more than $16 billion through the offering. But there were problems right off the bat, including technical issues at the Nasdaq within the first moments of trading. The stock barely moved on the first day of trading and even dropped on day two. Investors were also initially concerned about how the company would make money. But since then, Facebook has turned around to become one of the most valuable by market capitalization

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