The Pathetic Case of Lehman Brothers' Richard Fuld

Last Updated Oct 7, 2008 11:50 AM EDT

richard_fuld.JPGRichard Fuld has a terrible tale to tell.

His testimony before a congressional committee looking into the collapse of investment bank Lehman Brothers is a chilling warning to any CEO of what can happen when one's corporate position is turned upside down.

Anyone who watched Fuld on television or read accounts of the testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on Monday can't help but come away with a sense of sympathy and disbelief over what happened to Fuld.

That is, at least, until they realize that the man seemed so out of touch that as late as Sept. 10, days before Leham's spectacular bankruptcy, Fuld thought his 158-year-old firm was fully capitalized.

Fuld blamed a wide assorted of demons for Lehman's demise, from naked short sellers, to big bad credit rating agencies, to credit default swaps gone ker-flooey, to the rumor mill.

He couldn't believe that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson would leave Lehman twisting slowly in the wind while bailing out American International Group.
The demise got very personal, as Fuld tells it. He has lost hugely since he was Lehman's biggest single shareholder with 10 million shares and options.

For a Wall Street executive used to being fetted and respected, Fuld suddenly became the butt of protestors. At one point, when he emerged from his office building, protestors followed him, screaming "criminal." According to CNBC, he was punched in the nose by a disgruntled employee at a company gym.

"I wake up every single night thinking, What could I have done differently? This is a pain that will stay with me for the rest of my life, regardless of what comes out," he told the congressional committee.

I have dealt with plenty of CEOs in my career and some of them are treated as gods and think they are. There's no question about compensation and accountability getting way out of whack.

But I have to say I don't take any pleasure in the pathetic story of Richard Fuld.

(Image by World Economic Forum via Flickr, CC 2.0)