Bleeding Green: The Fall of Fuld

Money, respect and the corner office: What Lehman's 'Gorilla' CEO has lost.

ByABC News
October 3, 2008, 6:17 PM

Oct. 6, 2008— -- If you've ever heard of the tony estates of Greenwich, Conn., it probably wouldn't surprise you to learn that some come equipped with squash courts.

A decade ago, George Ball lived a mile and a half away from one of them. Ball was friends with the property's athletic owner and they played the game together -- one alpha male against another in a white box court.

Ball's squash partner was Richard Fuld, the chief executive officer of Lehman Brothers. Fuld, he said, wanted "very badly to win" but he also played fair.

Fuld is "the rare person who simultaneously wants to beat your brains in but also takes a good deal of joy in the things that his opponent does well," Ball said.

Off the court, Fuld, 62, probably isn't taking joy in much these days. Last month, Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy protection, marking the demise of one of Wall Street's most storied brokerage firms. Today, Fuld, who declined an request for an interview, is scheduled to testify before Congress in a hearing on the financial crisis that continues to wreak havoc at other financial firms and the economy. (Read Fuld's prepared testimony.)

Lehman's bankruptcy thrust Fuld, who led the firm for 15 years and worked there for nearly 40, into the ever-growing club of CEOs who saw their investment banks felled by the subprime housing meltdown. On the day of Lehman's bankruptcy filing, Merrill Lynch announced it was selling itself to Bank of America. Months earlier, Bear Stearns was purchased by JPMorgan Chase with the government's backing. The week after Lehman's collapse, the country's last two major independent brokerage firms -- Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley -- sought to save themselves by morphing into commercial banks.

The bankruptcy filing distinguished Lehman from the fate of its brokerage brethren. Most of Lehman's North American operations were purchased by the U.K.-based Barclays Capital. But the debt holders of Lehman, unlike those of Bear Stearns and Merrill, were left with pennies on the dollar, said Sean Egan of the credit rating company Egan Jones.

And while shareholders of Bear Stearns saw the value of their stocks decimated, they still came out ahead of those who invested in Lehman, including many Lehman employees, who saw their holdings plummet to nothing. Fuld himself, according to, lost at least $600 million since December.

The face of Lehman's defeat, quite literally, was Fuld. On the day the bankruptcy filing was announced, artist Geoffrey Raymond -- known for painting Wall Street heavyweights and politicians -- debuted a large portrait of Fuld outside Lehman's Times Square headquarters. As he's done with other works, Raymond invited passersby, including Lehman employees, to use colored markers to sign messages on the canvas.