Chips are down for a Wall Street tyrant

Jimmy CayneThis last week has seen a sorry-looking bunch of people in bars around our block. Many are Bear Stearns employees, whose life-savings just tanked. These (mostly) men are livid – mainly at 74-year-old chairman Jimmy Cayne, who could have sold the business a year ago at $200 a share instead of the measly $10 they got last week (Cayne himself cashed out last Thursday).

There have been stories of wives telling decorators to stop hanging new silk curtains. For the first time, college graduates who took jobs that don’t pay much, at magazines or auction houses like Sotheby’s and Christie’s, don’t feel that Wall Street – where many of their peers are headed – is the place to be. Bottega Veneta, the fashion house owned by Gucci, which produces classically conservative clothes, is reported to be the place to shop now, rather than cutting-edge design houses.

The markets rise and fall and we hope the chaos means we’ve reached the bottom. We are frightenedby the market’s volatile reaction to the Fed’s intervention over Bear Stearns. There is talk of conspiracy against Bear by hedge funds: is Lehman the next victim, questions the rumourmill? But personally I just find myself wondering how Jimmy Cayne could have continued at the helm of Bear for more than 30 years.

Cayne is a man of vast appetites, an online poker addict who I found to be a self-aggrandising tyrant when I met him six years ago. At that time he lied to me baldly about a story I was working on, bragged about his poker and flirted with me, showing off Bears’ sumptuous offices. When later confronted with documents that proved he’d lied, he went berserk and resorted to name-calling.

“Cowboys, that lot,” I remember a friend of mine explaining. His father was a golfing buddy of Cayne’s and there were stories of golf clubs being chucked up into trees after bad strokes.

In a good economic climate, I guess you could smile about such behaviour. But now it seems distinctly unamusing – especially since Cayne was reported as being on the golf course when his hedge funds were imploding last summer.

Last week, cheekily, I rang Cayne’s office to ask if he wanted to play poker live on TV with me. The call has yet to be returned. Mr Cayne appears to have taken his chips off the table. But for the neighbourhood’s disgruntled Bear employees, this is a poker game gone very sour.V

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