Friday, April 02, 2010

“Life as the wife of a Lehman Brothers banker”

I’m no longer surprised by stories of controlling and dictatorial bosses. But an article about the wives of those who worked for the now dead financial firm, Lehman Brothers, really got my attention.

The article, published in the UK’s Telegraph newspaper, is called “Life as the wife of a Lehman Brothers banker.” The article talks about a book, “The Devil’s Casino”, written by journalist Vicky Ward, who reveals the horror of life at Lehman. The article says:

There was an annual summer jaunt to the Fuld’s ranch in Sun Valley, Idaho. Not for this lot relaxing walks and jovial team bonding; the weekend was planned with military precision. Ward writes that the men were expected to wear “khaki pants and either a golf shirt or button-down”; Fuld believed that sloppy dress equalled sloppy thinking. The women had to pack “pretty dresses, jewellery, and Manolo Blahnik shoes” as well as hiking gear for the day. This annual hike was so gruelling that one wife turned up with a fake plaster cast in an attempt to get out of it. To her horror, another wife had turned up with a real cast on, but still planned to do the hike. “The wives were just as competitive as their husbands,” says Ward. “If anything, they were more political.”

Even worse:

Yet Ward says she found the roles that the wives were expected to play “chilling”. There is one particular episode in the book that stands out in this respect. Karin Jack, the wife of executive Bradley Jack, recalls the moment one of their children had a seizure. That day some of the senior executives and their wives were due to go and look at a house that Joe Gregory, the company’s then chief operating officer, was building. “We were using Joe’s helicopter,” says Karin in the book. “But I said, 'I have to take my son to the paediatrician.’ So they landed the Sikorsky near our home and waited for me, and they were not leaving without me. Can you imagine the pressure? I have this really sick child, but I know that if I don’t get on that helicopter it’s going to hurt Brad.”

What stands out is that absolute obedience was expected. In the Q&A section on her book’s page on Amazon, Ward says:

You cannot run a major securities firm without tolerating dissent or change at the top. Lehman’s “one firm” culture that made it so great when it was a tiny sub-division of a much larger entity became its nemesis when it was a stand-alone investment bank. Anyone who disagreed with Dick Fuld, or more importantly, the firm’s day-to-day manager Joe Gregory was either fired or quit."

All this – expecting wives to stick by the firm’s rules, intolerance of dissent and so on – brings only one word to my mind: dictatorship. But then, Systems Thinking shows us that these behaviors are only to be expected.

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