Sifting through the wreckage of the Wall Street-led global financial collapse is like looking at the path of a tornado. Some houses are reduced to nothing but debris, others survive with hardly a scratch. Unlike a tornado, which lacks any discernible pattern for where it strikes, the financial one created in 2008 had a specific characteristic: the bigger the house, the less likely it was to be destroyed.

If there is one lesson we have learned from the 2008-2009 financial crisis it’s this: Rich people are untouchable, and REALLY rich people will always land on their feet.

Here are ten people who not only played a major part in creating the financial crisis, but seemed to emerge stronger because of it.

Hank Greenberg, AIG

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Maurice “Hank” Greenberg used to be the boss of AIG, one of the world’s biggest insurance companies. According to The Guardian:

AIG had a vast business in credit default swaps and therefore a huge exposure to a residential mortgage crisis. When AIG’s own credit-rating was cut, it faced a liquidity crisis and needed an $85bn (£47bn then) bail out from the US government to avoid collapse and avert the crisis its collapse would have caused. It later needed many more billions from the US treasury and the Fed, but that did not stop senior AIG executives taking themselves off for a few lavish trips, including a $444,000 golf and spa retreat in California and an $86,000 hunting expedition to England.

Greenberg got out of the AIG business in 2005 (amid scandal), which largely shielded him from the repercussions for problems he helped create.

After he left AIG, he decided to take a more active role in politics. During the 2012 presidential primaries, he – oddly enough – backed Texas Gov. Rick Perry for president by donating generously and holding fundraisers for his campaign. He also spent late 2012 suing the government for bailing out AIG – which he thought was unfair. But not for the reasons you would think. He felt the federal government took advantage of AIG’s vulnerable state and profited from that position. The suit was so laughable that AIG itself refused to join and the case was dismissed.

Today, the 88-year-old enjoys the $300 million net worth he’s amassed over the years and continues to work on his insurance empire-building. Someone should point out to him that he can’t take that money with him when he dies.

Richard Fuld, Lehman Brothers

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Dick Fuld operated as the chief executive officer for Lehman Brothers right until he helped destroy the company.

A former bond trader known as “the Gorilla”, Fuld had been with Lehman for decades and steered it through tough times. But just before the bank went bust he had failed to secure a deal to sell a large stake to the Korea Development Bank and most likely prevent its collapse. Fuld encouraged risk-taking and Lehman was still investing heavily in property at the top of the market. Facing a grilling on Capitol Hill, he was asked whether it was fair that he earned $500m over eight years. He demurred; the figure, he said, was closer to $300m. [source]

In a sane world, earning “closer” to $300 million while overseeing the destruction of a 158 year old company might make you a Wall Street leper, but this isn’t a sane world, this is America.

After Lehman, Fuld opened up his own financial advisory firm (because, hey, those who can’t do, advise):

Fuld quietly opened his own advisory firm called Matrix Advisors in a Third Avenue office building in Manhattan, across the street from the headquarters of Avon, the cosmetics company. He’s landed a few clients, according to news reports, SEC filings and court records. Matrix advised AT&T Inc. on its failed bid to purchase T-Mobile. And it has consulted with GlyEco, a company that recycles the chemical glycol, and Ecologic Transportation Corp., a company that rents out environmentally friendly cars. [source]

When he needs to relax, he can retreat to his sprawling 30-acre ranch and think back to the good old days.

Chuck Prince, Citibank

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Chuck Prince is the guy who spent 2007 losing Citibank tons of money. Or at least one of them.

A lawyer by training, Prince had built Citi into the biggest bank in the world, with a sprawling structure that covered investment banking, high-street banking and wealthy management for the richest clients. When profits went into reverse in 2007, he insisted it was just a hiccup, but he was forced out after multibillion-dollar losses on sub-prime business started to surface. [source]

The ouster was probably hard on the ego, but the golden parachute probably felt quite nice. When they forced him to resign, Citigroup offered Prince a severance package worth around $95 million in stock, bonus and other benefits. This guy made more money being fired than 2,100 school teachers make in a year. Maybe if those school teachers had lost between $8 billion and $11 billion in three months, they could expect a severance package so nice.

Since resigning from Citi, Prince has moved on to the consultation circuit. It will forever be a mystery as to why people who have unequivocally demonstrated that they do not know how to run a business are greeted with such enthusiasm by other companies eager to glean some insights. He also serves on the boards of directors of Xerox Corp. and Johnson & Johnson Inc. In the ultimate irony, he also gives talks that explain the financial crisis to interested groups. I imagine it’s just him pointing to his own head and asking for the check to be made out to “Chuck.”

Angelo Mozilo, Countrywide Financial

26_angelo_lgAngelo Mozilo, called “the orange one” due to his love of a good tan, ran Countrywide during the time it was really, really into giving loans to people who had no way of paying for them.

Mozilo was the chairman and chief executive of the biggest American sub-prime mortgage lender, which was saved from bankruptcy by Bank of America. BoA recently paid billions to settle investigations by various attorney generals for Countrywide’s mis-selling of risky loans to thousands who could not afford them. The company ran a “VIP programme” that provided loans on favourable terms to influential figures including Christopher Dodd, chairman of the Senate banking committee, the heads of the federal-backed mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and former assistant secretary of state Richard Holbrooke. [source]

Mozilo might be the closest any banker has come to actually getting in trouble for his actions. Maybe it’s because Mozilo is pretty much a walking, talking “bad guy” banker stereotype.

His particular brand of money-making during the subprime mortgage crisis was easily the most corrupt and most obvious. Unlike other banks and financial institution, Mozilo didn’t bother to let the lack of ethics get lost in the vagaries of economic minutia. His company had no qualms giving huge sums of money to people who obviously, blatantly, clearly could not afford it. When the music finally stopped. Mozilo shrugged and acted as if he had no idea. During investigations he has been hostile or faked cluelessness.

He almost went to jail, but of course he didn’t. He ended up paying $67 million in settlements, but Countrywide was forced to cover $20 million of it. If $40 million seems like a lot, you probably don’t live near Mozilo. In just eight years, he walked away with well over half a billion dollars.

Jimmy Cayne, Bear Stearns

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In an image that brings to mind Nero fiddling while Rome burned, Jimmy Cayne famously went to a bridge tournament in Detroit during the collapse of his company.

Confidence in the bank evaporated after the collapse of two of its hedge funds and massive write-downs from losses related to the home loans industry. It was bought for a knock down price by JP Morgan Chase in March. Cayne sold his stake in the firm after the JP Morgan bid emerged, making $60m. Such was the anger directed towards Cayne that the US media reported that he had been forced to hire a bodyguard. [source]

The collapse of Bear Stearns proved too much for the 74-year-old. After he left, he decided he liked bridge better.

Cayne, who lives in a $25 million apartment in New York’s Plaza Hotel, can be found almost every day in cyberspace hosting an online bridge game.

Last month in the Hyatt Regency hotel in Atlanta, Cayne sat for hours in a crowded ballroom with orange, brown and yellow swirled carpet competing for the coveted Spingold Cup.

Cayne sat in a crisply pressed shirt with his team — two Italians and two Israelis — chomping a cigar and talking in hushed tones over one of the dozens of folding tables. [source]

He allegedly pays his “team” of bridge players over $100,000 a year to help him remain at the top of the bridge rankings. Much of that money is the stuff he was paid to not wreck a company only a few years ago, but hey, at least he has something to show for it.

Stan O’Neal, Merrill Lynch

04ceo-pay14Stan O’Neal ran Merrill Lynch during the good times – and straight into the bad ones.

When he was appointed to the top job four years earlier, O’Neal, the first African-American to run a Wall Street firm, had pledged to shed the bank’s conservative image. Shortly before he quit, the bank admitted to nearly $8bn of exposure to bad debts, as bets in the property and credit markets turned sour. [source]

Basically, O’Neal’s vision for Merrill Lynch was as a high stakes gambler. Merrill Lynch, and the employees who worked there, lost.

But not O’Neal. Despite being forced to quit over billions of dollars in bad bets, he was given a generous – very, very generous – severance package. At a time when the company was posting quarterly losses of over $2 billion, O’Neal walked away with $160 million to build a golden parachute out of.

If his severance package was kind, the people who formerly worked with and for him weren’t. CNBC named him one of the “Worst CEO’s of all time,” and Merrill founder’s son basically told anyone who would listen that O’Neal was:
A) responsible for ruining the company and B) an asshole.

It’s okay, Stan. Money doesn’t judge you the way people do.

Adam Applegarth, Northern Rock

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None flew so high, so fast and fell so hard. Adam Applegarth took over England-based Northern Rock bank and quickly began making it a behemoth. Unfortunately, it turned out to be too good to be true.

During his leadership, Northern Rock became one of the first victim’s of the subprime mortgage crisis and in 2007, for the first time in 100 years, the UK experienced a “run on the bank.” Applegarth was widely blamed for the event and forced to resign. Of course, he agreed but only after receiving $1.2 million in compensation.

Applegarth laid low (reportedly playing a lot of cricket) for a while but found redemption in the – who else? – open arms of Wall Street. Unfortunately, that job didn’t work out either. He was forced to resign amid more banking controversy.

As if this guy wasn’t scummy enough, it was revealed that during the financial crisis he had an ongoing affair with a junior employee at the bank, whom had a child with Applegarth. Nothing relieves the stress of destroying the economy like infidelity.

The American People

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How about the rest of us? How have the 99% fared after the financial crisis? The answer is: not so good.

While the recession officially ended in 2009, the recovery has not been equal for everyone. In 2010, the first full year of supposed economic recovery, an astonishing 93 percent of income gains went to the top 1 percent. If you want to put a face to that 1 percent, just look at the pictures of all seven of the guys listed above. All of them are firmly in that category.

According to MSNBC:

The top 10% assumed control over more than half of all income in the United States in 2012, “even [surpassing] 1928, the peak of [the] stock market bubble in the ‘roaring’ 1920s,” writes Saez. The country’s biggest earners brought in 95% of all income gains between 2009 and 2012; in terms of income, the other 99% have barely recovered from the recession at all. In the same time period, incomes for the top 1% grew by 31.4%, incomes for the 99% grew by only 0.4%. Half a decade after the 2008 financial collapse, few but the very richest are anything but worse off.

Jobs continue to return only slowly as well. The cascading events of 2008 may seem distant to those who caused them, but to the people whose lives it affected it still reverberates.

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I let my curiosity take me for a walk. My job is to describe what I find under the rocks.