Why Did Lehman Fail?
Most of us remember that it seemed like the financial world came crumbling down the day Lehman Brothers announced that they were going into bankruptcy. I have to admit that, even though there were overall signs that something wasn’t right, this was the defining moment when I knew this country was in trouble.
Ever since their collapse, there’s been an investigation as to why they failed, and I know why. You research things like this so you can see if someone else might be going in the same direction and should get an intervention so that they don’t collapse. That’s the one thing about the United States; it will try to find answers to bad things. Unfortunately, we don’t always learn from history either, and my thought is that this one will look and sound good, but in the end won’t stop any other banks from falling. Why? Let’s take a look at the main talking points of this investigation.
The first is that leadership lied to cover their bad performance. That’s not novel at all, and it’s the thing that’s brought down other companies in the past, such as Enron and Arthur Anderson. They even sent a young woman whom they’d made CFO only a couple of months earlier, Erin Callen, into the public to be the public face of the company, spouting all this positive stuff before she had a chance to look at anything and determine they were lying.
Something else they did was not count bartered items that were temporarily “repossessed” as loans. What they did for awhile was allow people to put up assets instead of collateral to trade for cash, but instead of calling it a loan they called it sales, which made both profits and liabilities look better, but wasn’t really legitimate. To say it wasn’t legitimate is to say that it took a foreign law office to tell them they could do it, because no American law office would. Now that’s sneaky and fraudulent.
Finally, they had some help in covering all of this up through Ernst & Young, who validated everything Lehman was doing even though they’d been informed by someone that it wasn’t legal to do. Does this remind anyone of David G. Friehling, Madoff’s accountant? Ernst & Young is a major player; they had to know this wasn’t legitimate, and they have a fiduciary responsibility not to certify this kind of thing. Oh wait, obviously they weren’t paying attention to the Arthur Anderson history either.
And that’s my main point. History repeated itself many times here, and it still resulted in another greedy banking institution and a weeping willow accounting company failing to do what was right. Why did Lehman fail? Because they didn’t pay attention in history class.