Doing a Fuld might make you happy, but not always popular
I WAS recently trying to coordinate a weekend out with my parents, who were visiting from the States. I put a lot of plans into the mix – I tried to be a bit flashy, to show them what I could do. Yet despite my best efforts, the whole sequence of events got out of control. I’d overplanned, and they were not happy.
My mother complained. This escalated into royal rowsville. I yelled, pointed out I’d done my best and so on. And boy did it feel good. Just as it probably feels good to Dick Fuld, who, after all, was at Lehman Brothers from 1994 until its collapse, and turned it into the fourth richest bank on Wall Street. It’s hard to believe that he wasn’t doing his best when things went pear-shaped. Yes, he made mistakes that the world is paying for. He should not be exonerated or forgotten. But just as his critics have a right to lambast him, he has a right to defend himself however he wants.
These days, the softly softly, turn the other cheek approach is very fashionable. Just look at how people loathe George W Bush, the epitome of the noisy mistake and the equally noisy defence. So the idea of an evil banker standing up to his critics – as he admits his failure – was never going to go down well.
But what has Fuld got to lose by letting loose? Certainly not dignity. He’s human and he’s showing it. If anything, it’s nice to see someone not entirely dominated by handlers and PR, and his fighting words are making things a little more interesting. No doubt, they’re also making him feel more like a man. At least he has that – it’s not like a bright professional future beckons if only he plays the meek mouse. Go get em, Fuld.
LASHING out at all and sundry is satisfying, there’s no doubt about that. A bout of swearing and a bit of a tantrum are sure to make you feel better. But the sight of Dick Fuld complaining that people are “dumping on him” by harping on about the collapse of Lehman Brothers, of which he was the boss, is an unedfying one.
The facts of his case are clear: he messed up. Or at least, he was holding the parcel when it blew up in his face. Sad for him, but he was paid to take the hit. It came. He can’t complain.
When somebody like Fuld wonders why everybody is out to get him it is a sign that he is in deep denial. His self-belief, it appears, is undented by the events of September 2008, which caused the whole economic house of cards to come fluttering down. His complaints are a sign of – dare one suggest this of a Wall Street banker? – undimmed arrogance.
Fuld might feel that a year on, it is time for people to forgive and forget. They won’t. When the dust settles and he picks up the inevitable high-paying non-executive directorships, people will grumble. He can’t escape that. It’s with him for life.
Over time, his name might stop being mud, but while businesses are still closing and people are losing their jobs, he should keep on wearing his sackcloth and ashes. He might find it boring, but he is still a public enemy and will be for a long time.
The tone of his remarks show that he finds the denigration of bankers in general and him in particular a tremendous bore. This doesn’t do him any favours. The correct response for Fuld to take, as we approach the anniversary of Lehman’s demise, is sad reflection, or if he is unable to manage that, the second best thing is just to stay out of sight and to keep his mouth closed. Sometimes silence can be a sign of wisdom.