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Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Alumni Notes

The Dick Fuld I Knew

By Richard Carreño
Monday, when his critics were verbally 'tar and feathering' him, Richard S. Fuld Jr., the chief executive of the once-mighty, now bankrupt investment bank Lehman Brothers Holdings, was living up to his nickname. No, not 'The Gorilla,' the good natured, self-ascribed sobriquet that signaled Fuld's in-house rep as Wall Street's Mr. Tough Guy. How about 'Animal'?

At school, more than 40 years ago, that was Dick Fuld's other moniker. And looking at the photograph of the combative 62-year-old Fuld in Tuesday's New York Times, you could see why. Fuld was spoiling for a fight. Though walking away from Lehman with millions (he's still said to be worth more than $100-million, though once a billionaire), Fuld wasn't about to admit to any wrong-doing. Much less that he and other top Lehman executives weren't entitled to their golden parachutes.

Fuld and I were students in the early 1960s at Wilbraham Academy, an all-boys boarding school in Massachusetts, and in prep-school speak 'animal' was no derogatory term. All committed jocks, who were a little short in grades, were called 'animals' in recognition of their aggressive play and pumped-up, buffed-up physiques. The Fuld you see today, in other words, is just an older version of Fuld, 1964 graduate of Wilbraham. Bull-neck and all. Appropriately enough, the 'animals' lived in Smith, a senior dorm branded 'The Zoo.'

'Animal,' outside of its aggressive sports connotation, didn't quite do Fuld justice, however. For one thing, as far I could tell, Fuld was never a bully, as some of his cohorts were.

In those days, more than four decades ago, underclassmen like myself (I was a year behind Fuld) were dining-room table servers to seniors. It was a kind of servitude that often meant that during meals we had only minutes to eat, if that. The bullies would make the most servile of servers return endlessly to the kitchen for more pitchers of milk. The unemptied pitchers would pile up on the table. Still, the server was told to fetch more.

I never noticed Fuld participating in this hazing. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that just a couple of years later, when the future Lehman head was slogging it out at the University of Colorado, that he was sacked from the university's Naval ROTC program for defending another cadet who was being hazed by a senior officer. Fuld punched the officer.

While at Wilbraham, I knew more about Fuld than I knew him. Seniors and juniors hardly ever mixed -- unless we were in the butt lounge where some minor interaction took place. Besides, I was hardly an 'animal.'

I fenced, and fencing, according the all-purpose jocks' definition of muscular activities, was girly-man sport. Still, I wasn't tormented like some who didn't conform to jock notion of the ideal. I was editor of the school newspaper, head of its English Club, and considered an aesthete.

Yet there were some other unwritten rules. If you dressed well (in those days it was all coat and necktie), hailed from a world capital, and had family money (or, at least, the appearance of affluence), you were off the hook. My clothes came from London, my family lived in Paris, and, well, we did have a bit of money.

I had no idea where Fuld lived. Somewhere in 'upstate' New York, I reckoned. Years later, after checking Wilbraham's yearbook, Del Todo, I learned it was somewhere in Westchester County. (In those days, I had no clue outside Boston, New York, and Philadelphia). Actually, I wasn't too sure of Fuld's social standing, either. Even then, he was wearing white socks with a suit. Never a good sign.

I did know that Fuld was a BMOC during his four years at the Academy. (In fact, he was rated 'Most Popular' and 'Most Respected' by Wilbraham's Class of 1964). He was a do-er, someone who, it was said, had 'school spirit.' He was a senior monitor, Del Todo's editor in his senior year, and a member of the Dance Committee. Yes, I guess he was a 'party animal,' as well. Most of all, he was a football player. Varsity Football, 3,4.

There was another aspect to Fuld's character that the Class of 1964 recognized: A 'wild' streak. Along with two other class-mates, he was ranked the 'Wildest.' Surely, a Wall Street virtue in a budding career at Lehman, where risk-taking was legend.

Yet Fuld's other nickname at Wilbraham is perhaps the most telling in Fuld's roller-coaster career than spanned success as billionaire chief of one the world's most venerable merchant banks to the shamed villain in its downfall. The name? 'Ab Dul the Camel Trader.'