When Ken Lewis held all the keys
In case you missed it in the pre-New Years hubbub (by the way, can you believe that next year is 2010? Where's my jet pack?), the Observer picked up a great Wall Street Journal story about the weekend that Lehman went down and Bank of America bought Merrill Lynch. The story opens with Lehman CEO Dick Fuld desperately trying to get a hold of BofA's Ken Lewis to convince him to save his company:
Desperate to avoid steering his 25,000-person company into bankruptcy proceedings, Mr. Fuld dialed the Charlotte, N.C., home of Bank of America Chairman Kenneth D. Lewis. His calls so far that weekend had gone unreturned. This time, Mr. Lewis's wife, Donna, again picked up, and told the boss of Lehman Brothers: If Mr. Lewis wanted to call back, he would call back.
Mr. Fuld paused, then apologized for bothering her. "I am so sorry," he said.
Interestingly, the story subtly paints the U.S. gov't as a party to the final implosion of Wall Street as we knew it. After saving Bear Stearns from bankruptcy, the government seemed disinclined to get involved with Lehman. After seeing the books, Lewis told Lehman (this was before Fuld's desperate calls) that BofA could not buy Lehman without government assistance. The gov't declined, Lehman went down, and the markets tanked the following week.