Member-supported news for Southern California
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Support for LAist comes from:

Great Recession Redux: Where are they now?

People rally in front of the New York Stock Exchange in the financial district against the proposed government buyout of financial firms September 25, 2008 in New York City.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
People rally in front of the New York Stock Exchange in the financial district against the proposed government buyout of financial firms September 25, 2008 in New York City.

This weekend marks the fifth anniversary of the bankruptcy of investment bank Lehman Brothers in 2008, the largest in the nation's history, which worsened the fledgling recession and set in motion a major financial crisis, the real estate crash and the Great Recession around the world. It hit particularly hard right here in Southern California.

The financial calamity of 2008 left Americans and people around the world broke, dazed, and uncomfortably familiar with terms like "mortgage-backed securities" and "credit default swaps." As we look back at the recession that defined the decade and ask where you find yourself five years from the crisis, we thought we'd offer a look at how some of the major players in the catastrophe are faring today.

The Moneymen

Richard Fuld, Jr. | CEO of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. 

At the time of its collapse, Richard Fuld Jr. was the Chairman and CEO of Lehman Brothers. Known as "the gorilla" for his graceful silverback management style, Fuld oversaw the company as it made an aggressive push into the commercial real estate market, investing heavily in the now-infamous mortgage-backed securities just before things got bad.

As the assets Lehman collected began to turn toxic, Fuld pushed heavily for support from the feds, and when Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson made it clear that wasn't coming, he filed for bankruptcy. Fuld oversaw Lehman's bankruptcy filings and took a brutal haircut himself, selling his stock for 20 cents a share, for a more than $167 million loss, according to the Business Insider. (Luckily, he'd amassed a substantial fortune from his salad days at the company.)

TIMELINE: Key events in the Great Recession

Fuld went on to found Matrix Advisors LLC, which provided "advice to corporations on raising capital and on mergers and acquisitions," and later took a job at a small brokerage firm called Legend Securities in 2010. But in February 2012, after coming under scrutiny for his role at the company, he called it quits. 

For more on the current whereabouts of the "Bros of Lehman" check Business Insider's full report

James Cayne | CEO of Bear Stearns

As the cracks began to materialize under investment bank and brokerage firm Bear Stearns in 2007, and two of the company's hedge funds collapsed because of their investment in risky mortgage-backed securities, papa bear Cayne was at a bridge tournament in Nashville. The hands-off management style brought heavy criticism from investors in the months that followed and led to his ouster in January 2008. 

Turns out it Cayne may played his cards well. At 79, he took 12th place in the international bridge "Players of the Decade" list in 2012. He's since slipped to 23rd. 

For more on the bears of Bear Stearns, view the Business Insider's report

Ken Lewis | CEO of Bank of America

You couldn't blame Ken Lewis for trying. Check that. Yes, you can. The former CEO of Bank of America thought he spotted a sweet deal when troubled mortgage lender Countrywide Financial and big-time investment bank Merrill Lynch appeared open to buyers. Turns out, they weren't such a good investment. When the two institutions began to pull B of A's already sagging bottom line further south, Lewis took a hint from furious investors and retired.

The 66-year-old now splits his time between homes in Florida and North Carolina and recently signed on to the board of Studio Charlotte Development, a company with plans to develop a Hollywood-style production studio from an abandoned Charlotte mall. Sounds like a killer opportunity. You can invest right here.

Martin Sullivan (R) | CEO of AIG

Sullivan took big risks as CEO of the company from 2005 to 2008, until he was booted by shareholders for his role in the losses from derivatives tied to subprime mortgages. In 2010, he went to work as chairman and deputy chairman of Willis Global Solutions, a London-based brokerage company, until he left under muddy circumstances in February 2013.

Robert Willumstad (L) | CEO of AIG

His successor fared a little better. Willumstad, who had been AIG chairman from 2006, took on the CEO role in June 2008, just in time watch AIG face a devastating downgrade to its credit rating. He spent the remainder of his tenure racing the clock to raise cash before the downgrade, only to be relieved of this burden when the feds took control of AIG and forced his ouster in September. 

Willumstad is now a partner at Brysam Global Partners, which he cofounded in 2007. He's also director of  S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc. Chairman of the Board at Adelphi University, and represents for the old country as a trustee of the American Scandinavian Foundation. 

For a full listing of the fate of Wall Street's financial barons, check out the Wall Street Journal's excellent post

The Feds

Henry Paulson | Treasury Secretary 

Paulson had been two years into his Treasury Secretary job when the foundations of the U.S. economy began to rattle. More than any other person, the man known affectionately as Hank by the President came to represent the face of government reaction to the recession — first, in his upbeat estimations of the crisis (right up to May 2008), to the doomsday assessments made a few months later when arguing for a government-backed bailout.

Paulson stepped down as Treasury Secretary in 2009 and stepped into several fellowship roles at John Hopkins University soon after. He used the time to pen a harrowing account of his adventures alongside musketeers Timothy Geithner and Ben Bernanke (see below) in bringing the American economy back from the brink.

Paulson is now the chairman of the University of Chicago's Paulson Institute, a think tank devoted to fostering "sustainable economic growth and environmental preservation in the United States and China" and in promoting "increased economic activity in both countries that spur job creation and smart urban growth, while equally urging responsible environmental policies."

Timothy Geithner | Head of the Federal Reserve in NY

Geithner at the time was the head of the New York Fed, responsible for keeping an eye on Wall Street for Washington. He then succeeded Hank Paulson as U.S Treasury Secretary in 2009 and, after overseeing the distribution of $350 billion in TARP funds and haggling with Republicans over the debt ceiling, among other matters, Geithner stepped down in January 2013. 

He's now putting the finishing touches on a book about the financial crisis of 2008 , which has sparked speculation and its own hashtag on possible #GeithnerBookTitles. He's also making headlines as a longshot to succeed current Chairman of the Fed, Benjamin Bernanke.

Ben Bernanke Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank

As the head of the Fed since 2006, Bernanke has seen the economy go from irrational exuberance to holy terror and back over to squeamish meandering in his long stint. The 59-year-old scholar of the Great Depression is widely expected to step down from his position in January, if he's not mobbed by angry AIG shareholders before then. 

So how about you? How have you fared through the Great Recession? Let us know in the poll below or in the comments section here.