They were the Rat Pack of Wall Street. Four close friends: one a decorated war hero, one an emotional hippie, and two regular guys with big hearts, big dreams, and noble aims. They were going to get rich and prove that men like them—with zero financial training—could more than equal the Ivy League–educated, white-shoe bankers who were the competition. They were going to create an institution for others like them—men who were hungry outsiders— and they were going to win, but not at the cost of their souls.
In short, they were going to be the good guys of finance.
They were determined to rebuild the broken brand of Lehman Brothers, America’s oldest partnership, which had imploded in 1984 and was consumed by American Express and Shearson. For a decade or so, they drove into the office from the same middle-class town in Long Island at 4 a.m. They became known as the Huntington Mafia and the Ponderosa Boys.
For a while, their unity and their grit were undefeatable. The men atop American Express and Shearson— supposedly their bosses—found they were no match for the defiant team spirit that confronted them in Lehman Commercial Paper Inc., which, in 1990, became known simply as Lehman.
Under their watch, Lehman Brothers started to grow and became independent again in 1994. But something had gone wrong on the journey. The men slowly, perhaps inevitably, changed. As Lehman Brothers grew, so too did the cracks in and among the men who had rebuilt it. And then it all came undone on September 15, 2008.
Investigative writer and Vanity Fair contributing editor Vicky Ward takes you inside Lehman’s highly charged offices. You’ll meet beloved leaders who were erased from the corporate history books, but who could have taken the firm in a very different direction had they not fallen victim to infighting and their own weaknesses. You will encounter an unlikely and almost unknown Marcus Brutus, who may have had more to do with Lehman’s failings than anyone—including Dick Fuld, who many considered the poster-child for the mistakes and greed of all bankers.
What Ward uncovers is that Lehman may have lost at the risky games of collateralized debt obligations, swaps, and leverage but, that was simply the tail end of a much bigger story. “Little Lehman” was the shop known to be forever fighting for its life and somehow succeeding. On Wall Street, it was cheekily known as “the cat with nine lives.” But this cat pushed its luck too far—and died, the victim of men and women blinded by arrogance.
Come inside The Devil’s Casino and see how good men lose their way, and how a firm that rose with the glory and bravado of Icarus fell burning in flames not so much from a sun, but from a match lit from within.