|Crash of the Titans: Greed, Hubris and the Fall of Merrill Lynch, Greg Farrell – The story of Merrill Lynch and Bank of America. It clearly drives home several lessons; decisive leadership, clash of cultures, the curse that befalls CEOs who surround themselves only with yes men, and oh so many more. The author was the reporter at the Financial Times who broke the story of the supposedly unauthorized bonuses. His depth of knowledge and inside contacts makes for a really fascinating read.
All the Devils Are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis, Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera – These authors are two of the best financial writers out there, having broken and covered some of the top stories for years at publications like The New York Times, Fortune and Vanity Fair. I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t read this one yet, but it’s next on my list and definitely worth being included on this one.
On The Brink: Inside the Race to Stop The Collapse of the Global Banking System, Henry “Hank” Paulson – Written by former Goldman Sachs Chairman and U.S. Treasury Secretary, I read this last because I wanted to get a sense of what Paulson’s perspective was while all the firms were dealing with and reeling from their ill-fated decisions and political maneuverings. The book was fairly dry until after the Lehman and AIG weekend. Paulson’s description of dealing with Congress, while understanding that the fate of the world was in his, and Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke’s hands was chilling. For those continuing Lehman conspiracy theorists, I'd venture anyone who gets as excited as Paulson does seeing a Red Headed Warbler while bird watching, doesn’t have that evil a mind.
|Prior Books that are good background reading on Wall Street, Corporate America and the political games played:
Liar’s Poker, Michael Lewis – The granddaddy of them all that helped to define the Wall Street of the '80s, which in turn was the Wall Street of the decades that followed. Lewis, a bond salesman, at once venerable Salomon Brothers, went on to become a successful writer of financial and non-financial books alike.
The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron, Bethany Mclean – The story of Enron, or how not to run a company, screw your shareholders, enrich yourselves and leave your employees’ job prospects and 401ks with a big fat zero.
Barbarians at the Gate, Bryan Burrough and John Helyar – Go back to where it all started in the Go-Go '80s and learn about the most famous leveraged buyout of all times, RJR Nabisco. A colorful cast of characters first written about by the authors in The Wall Street Journal and then in this book, (and subsequently in a poorly done film).
|Blue Blood and Mutiny: The Fight For the Soul of Morgan Stanley, Patricia Beard – The Story off Morgan Stanley and the battle waged by eight former senior directors to oust CEO Phil Purcell and ultimately return the rightful, exiled ruler, John Mack, to the throne. One of the best lesson of the book comes from the description of pre- public Morgan Stanley, which mirrored many other firms.
Once these companies ceased being partnerships where the partner's money was on the line, and became public companies, worried about quarterly numbers with other people’s money, firms began taking more and more risk. One could argue that this was also a factor in the crisis decades later.
When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long Term Capital, Roger Lowenstein – The story of Long Term Capital and its blow up in 1998 which led most of the major firms, with the exception of Bear Stearns (ah!), to bail it out, and in so doing, ensure that the banking system would remain solvent. Long Term Capital was the precedent that is mentioned countless times in the 2008 crisis and was attempted to be replicated the Lehman Weekend at the New York Fed.
Of course what kind of shameless, self-promoting, author would I be if I didn’t mention The Recessionistas: A Novel of the Once Rich and Famous? It’s more peripheral than the other books but emanates from my experience working on Wall Street, knowing many of the players, and of my observation of the events and their effect of the financial crisis on the social world.
|I didn’t write, however, about what it was like to be rebuilding a family firm with a strong legacy and how that both hung over my head but drove me to succeed, even as titans were falling around me.
I didn’t write of the day my father came into my office and commented that this was going to be like his childhood in the '30s when men in suits and fedoras sold apples on the street corner.
I didn’t write about what it was like to make a commitment to myself that no matter what, all of our employees would have a job.
I didn’t write of what it was like to look at the stock ticker on CNBC, and see multi hundred point drops and really not know what to say that wasn’t complete conjecture.
I didn’t write of the day a former client called me to ask if he should take his money out of Morgan Stanley because he was afraid it was going to go out of business.
Perhaps I should have. It seemed easier to write fiction, because the truth was too hard to tell.