I had the pleasure of meeting a true Wall Street legend, Alan “Ace” Greenberg, former Chairman and CEO of Bear Stearns, on Tuesday June 15, 2010 at an exclusive gathering hosted by Manhattan’s 92Y. Ace, a celebrated man and genius in his own right, spoke to a full and rather eager audience on his many decades on Wall Street as depicted in his latest book: The Rise & Fall of Bear Stearns.
Ace joined Bear Stearns in 1949 and rose to the top when he became CEO in 1978 and Chairman of the Board in 1985. The Bear Stearns team comprised of a little over 100 employees in 1949, and at its peak it topped 15,000! Ace is credited for building Bear Stearns into what was an international investment banking powerhouse and continues to be renowned for his character, sense of humor, and intellectual decision making. Ace shared his personal account of what actually happened at Bear Stearns during the credit crisis of 2007-2008, a devastating recollection of events that spared no one, not even himself.
This financial crisis is well described in his book, however here are some highlights from the evening including some personal advice from Ace:
- In order to be successful on Wall Street: you must work hard, love what you do, respect risk, and learn how to have influential people take a liking to you.
- Long Term Capital Management was not a systematic failure. The media blew it out of proportion. Bear Stearns cleared for LTCM and that is why he voted against giving any more money to save the ailing fund (because they already had a ton of exposure).
- LTCM: The country was not going to fail, only a handful of people were going to fail because Warren Buffet and AIG were willing to buy LTCM’s liabilities for a deep discount, but LTCM declined.
- The investment banking business model is dead (Because investment banks can not withstand a run on the bank like commercial banks can with the assistance of the US gov’t).
- “Anyone who invests money and neglects to calculate the risks at hand with a cold eye has no business in our business.”
- “The best risk managers instinctively anticipate the fullest range of plausible outcomes.”
- It is very important to make money but that should not be your only goal.
- False rumors about Bear Stearns (not being properly capitalized) are what caused the firm to fail.
- “No problem is an isolated problem.”
- It is very important to remain diversified. All his stock was not in Bear, therefore he personally didn’t lose everything.