Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Airplane Reading: Dziedzic on the Banker's Life

In Lehman Brothers' Dance With Delusion, Stanley J. Dziedzic, Jr., did not write the book he thought he wrote--nor the book I thought I was buying--but it's actually a pretty good book none the less.  It is, in the first place, not really a book about Lehman Brothers.   Grant that Lehman does figure in the last couple of chapters where we are told, more by assertion than demonstration, what an all round clusterstuck they made of their enterprise.  Or more precisely, what a mess was made by Richard Fuld, whom Dziedzic manifestly detests.  By D's account Fuld was an arrogant tyrant who seems not to have understood the very business he grew up in, and who allowed favorites to develop fiefdoms where they put the larger enterprise at risk.

Dziedzic may very well be right in his analysis of Fuld and Lehman--I rather suspect he is right--but we'll have to wait for a different book from this one to document the point.  What Dziedic does do, however--more or less by accident, I think--is to give us one of the best windows into the mind of the workaday banker that we are likely to be so lucky as to enjoy for a while.

Seen in this light, it would have been a worse book had it been a better book.  An careful editor would have smoothed off most of the rough edges--cut down the repetition, the clunky explanations of technical issues, the why-did-I-tell-you personal anecdotes.  But it is precisely these rough edges that make it carry conviction as a real human story.

Superficially, it might seem odd that Dziedzic may emerge as the face of banking.  In an earlier avatar, he was a wrestler and an Olympic coach, and one suspects that his heart is with wrestling even now (his Wiki doesn't even mention Lehman).  But on closer scrutiny, it's not a problem.  In fact Wall Street is boiling with these high-energy mesomorphs who don't think they are having a good time unless they can hear the crack of bodies (Stephen Friedman, former Goldman Sachs CEO, was a champ wrestler in college).  Dziedzic seems to have thrown himself into his banking career with the same kind of competitive zeal. And that's precisely what makes the book so engaging: his compulsion to explain, to justify, to help you understand, is enough to bring the reader along even in spite of himself. That zeal was no doubt precisely what Lehman wanted in an up-and-coming banker, but the reader does want to stand back from time to time and say of banking (as one might of wrestling)--hey, guys, it's only a game.

1 comment:

Ken Houghton said...

Wrestlers who destroyed the world would include Donald Rumsfeld.

That Dick Fuld finished destroying Lehman is uncontestable, but if giving preference to fiefdoms is a business-destroying strategy, there aren't many IBs that...uh, maybe that's not the best example...