Students and faculty crowded into Driscoll Hall last Tuesday to recognize the one-year anniversary of the collapse of major investment bank Lehman Brothers and hear the observations of industry experts on the ongoing economic crisis.
The lecture, entitled “Lessons Learned: The Financial Crisis and Its Long-Term Impact,” was presented by the School of Business and featured three businessmen, two of whom are Villanova alumni.
Among the speakers were Charles Ellinwood, Terence O’Toole and John Brennan.
Ellinwood, A&S Class of ’73, is the managing director of Barclays Capital’s Public Finance East Regional Group. His previous employment at Bear Stearns & Co. was followed by a brief stint at Lehman Brothers.
O’Toole, VSB Class of ’80, is now the co-managing member of Tinicum Capital Partners II, LP, a private investment partnership, after 21 years at Goldman Sachs. He is also the vice chairman of the University’s Board of Trustees.
Brennan has been chairman of the Board of The Vanguard Group since 1998. The company manages over $1 trillion in assets.
Dean of the School of Business James Danko opened the panel by reflecting on last year’s Parents Weekend, which took place over the days prior to Sept. 15, the day on which Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy.
Dean Danko said that he “felt the fear” in talking to parents that weekend.Wen Mao, the VSB chair of economics and statistics, also gave a short overview before introducing the panelists.
“It’s a very exciting time to be in the School of Business,” she said.
Each panelist had the opportunity to discuss their experiences over the past year.
Their recollections of the day that changed everything in the financial industry, as well as what each had to overcome to arrive at their current position, provided a context for the sector’s low point.
“I remember watching the House vote on TARP, and the commentator said, ‘It looks like there aren’t enough votes left to pass,'” O’Toole said. “I remember thinking, ‘This could be it.'”
Ellinwood shared a similar story from March 14, 2008, the day that Bear Stearns’ stock value was cut in half. Two days later, he learned that the company had been purchased by JP Morgan for a meager $2 a share.
Coincidentally, he said, the men’s basketball team had lost in the Big East Tournament semifinal game a few days before.
“The reason I’m here today is because I’m still standing after everything we’ve been through,” he said.
Brennan expressed satisfaction in his ability to provide clients with sound financial counseling in the midst of economic turmoil.
“I feel good about having been a voice of calm,” he said.
Sophomore Anne Rose thought it was “inspiring” to hear the lessons that the businessmen have learned.
“It made me feel optimistic to see what they’ve taken away from their experiences,” she said.
Brennan’s presentation outlined six important virtues for the marketplace. According to Brennan, leadership, prudence, simplicity, regulation, liquidity, and trust are vital components of a successful company.
Ellinwood also stressed the importance of trust, both between investment companies and with the public sector.
“Trust has been decimated over the past 24 months, and things won’t get better until it is reestablished,” he said.
Sophomore Andrew Benenati found many of the issues brought up by the panelists to be “thought-provoking.”
“It suggested that there are still a lot of decisions to be made in the financial services industry as it relates to regulation,” he said.
O’Toole’s experience at Goldman Sachs taught him the mantra of living within one’s means, something that Americans have moved away from in recent years.
Ellinwood also mentioned the importance of clients, stating that a firm cannot let its own problems get in the way of providing for its clients’ interests.
“It’s a people’s business,” Brennan added. “At the end of the chain somewhere is a human being.”
One of the most challenging questions posed by a student in the audience concerned the large bonuses given by Goldman Sachs to its executives.O’Toole said taxpayers are angry that their dollars are being used to increase the salaries of corporate management.
“Goldman is a survivor,” he argued. “They’re rewarding the best and the brightest, which is the definition of capitalism. I think it’s a huge political liability for them.”