I know this isn’t the typical post you see here at this blog site, but my wife was gracious enough to let me post here, so first off, I want to say thanks to her for letting me do this.
I just finished reading Lawrence McDonald & Patrick Robinson’s bookIt’s a great narrative, filled with details and insights of someone who was actually there. Not just a third party account of things someone else saw or someone else heard. It’s also an easy read. You feel like you could be sitting at the bar, watching the Sox play and talking to him. Or out on a porch in Cape Cod at a clam bake doing the same thing.
Part memoir, part inside story, this was a book that had me relating to McDonald on a variety of things. The early part of the book, which chronicles his struggles to make it to Wall Street, had me laughing at his antics just to get face time with the local branch managers at places like Merrill Lynch, etc. I used to think of doing some of these things, but I never did them. He actually did them and from my vantage point, only hilarity can ensue afterwards.
After he got to Lehman, you could feel – through the narrative – it was a place that he felt was special and the people he worked with were special. All of us have had times like this, where we felt like we were experiencing our own personal Camelot. It always seem to start too late, and end too early. This is obviously illustrated in the way the narrative treats the other people McDonald worked with, especially Larry McCarthy. Personally, I’d love to go to work with a crew like this on a trading desk. And if you’re working with people 60-70 hours a week, you have to like who you’re with.
Something else comes through in the narrative: these folks were trying to do the right thing. While it has been en vogue for the media to cover the backlash, the anger and the vitriol people feel towards folks in the financial industry, it should be obvious to us all not every person who worked at an investment bank, hedge fund, broker or bank was the son or daughter of Lucifer. You had a small group here who saw the signs that the firm was taking on too much leverage, taking on too much risk and wanted to do something about it. They were doing the job that Lehman’s risk managers should have been doing. Actually, Lehman’s risk managers should’ve been more proactive than that – they should’ve been saying ‘no’ up front when Mark Walsh or Joe Gregory had another brain-fart of an idea on where to make strategic investments with the firm’s capital. But in the end, many people at Lehman lost their jobs, some lost all of their retirement savings. That’s no laughing matter. For all of those people that felt vindicated at watching such misery, that says more about how pathetic they are than it does anything else.
One thing I must say though is it’s unclear where McDonald would place ultimate blame for Lehman’s collapse. Should it be laid at the feet of Dick Fuld? Should it be at the government’s – specifically Hank Paulson’s, Ben Bernanke’s, and/or Tim Geithner’s? It’s unclear and maybe that’s the point: there were so many opportunities to create a different outcome, yet nobody pulled the trigger to make it happen.
All I can say is after reading the book, I’d like to sit down and talk with Lawrence McDonald about it. Maybe over a beer and some seafood. It’s a great story, and the telling of that story is superb.
So while Lehman’s collapse was a colossal failure, this book is an epic success.