How to mark an anniversary? Whether a happy or sad occasion it’s always a tricky business, especially when that very anniversary is one marking a tricky business itself. A year on from the collapse of Lehman Brothers, perhaps the obvious choice is to flagrantly burn a wad of cash in the street, a sort of miniature funeral pyre to the ghost of the 160-year old bank. But for the more sensible among you a far more fascinating and less profligate way of marking the event would be to watch the The Love of Money: the bank that bust the world, which offers a truly extraordinary insight into the man behind Lehman Brothers—Dick Fuld.
This, the first episode of BBC2’s new three-part series (originally aired last Thursday, but still available to watch via BBC iplayer), is the story of the fateful weekend last September when the rotting carrion of the Lehman corpse started floating to the surface with a terrify speed. The man at the helm of the biggest bankruptcy in history, the reptilian Fuld, is a mesmerising figure, exhibiting a level of hubris which makes Oedipus look like a cautions fella. (See also City Boy’s thought on Fuld here).
In fact, the show is far more fascinating as a psychological profile of the mentality behind our current crisis than a financial retrospective—though it is that too—and a captivating character study of Fuld himself. Surprisingly, Fuld’s leadership style bears and unsettling resemblance to some recent tactics employed by a much more sympathetic character: our mild-mannered prime minister. As a Lehman insider who worked at the firm during the early 1990s put it:
“The best Dick Fuld observation was from my boss. He noted how Fuld, who spent his entire career from college graduation at Lehman, was often able to simply hibernate or disappear during periods of political and/or market turmoil at the firm. For months at a time, he would cosset himself in various senior level non-jobs to avoid getting caught up in some crisis or management fight. My boss said during this time people just would not see him on the trading floor—only down in the executive gym.
“It has often occurred to me in the years since hearing this story that Fuld’s undoing may have been the loss of the ability to hide. Once he was clearly and unambiguously in sole charge of the place, he was always on call, responsible for everything, and lost his ability to be invisible. In this respect he actually reminds me of Gordon Brown……”
As always, weigh in with your own thoughts and comments, as well as any other suggestions for how to mark this anniversary.