Last Days of Lehman: Final Call

It was late at night on Sept. 14, 2008, and I couldn’t sleep. I kept going over to the computer, looking for news of Lehman’s demise. I had lost my job in March, but I was still deeply invested in the company where I’d worked happily for four years. Many close friends still worked there. I had practical concerns as well: Much of my compensation remained in restricted Lehman shares. I feared I would be annihilated financially if the company went under.

My cell phone rang for maybe the 500th time that day. It was my former boss, a managing director and an old comrade-in-arms on the trading floor. Back in those days he almost never broke a sweat. He could lose $10 million in a day and still buy lunch for the more than 50 people who worked for him. He also loved to crack jokes: He called Lehman’s chief executive, Dick Fuld, “the invisible man” in reference to his consistent absence from the trading floor. The phrase quickly caught on.

That night, his voice was shaking. “They’re putting Lehman’s head under water,” he told me. “They’re just watching for the bubbles right now.” He seemed to be in extreme pain, as if he’d been hit by a bus, though he didn’t sound surprised.

Lawrence G. McDonald, a co-author of A Colossal Failure of Common Sense: The Inside Story of the Collapse of Lehman Brothers and a former vice president at Lehman.