Of the many debts that John Suckow would like to unwind from Lehman Brothers Holdings, the first might be shame.
Stigma, baggage, jokes about zombie banks back from the dead—Suckow would like to jettison all that, just as Lehman is liquidating what remains of its assets, four years after the bank’s failure sent the financial crisis into overdrive. There are deals to do, and creditors impatient to get pennies on the dollars owed them. Dwelling on the strangeness of Lehman’s ongoing existence isn’t going to get the work done faster.
“What might surprise you here a little bit,” says Suckow, Lehman’s president and chief executive officer, sitting in shirtsleeves in a conference room on the 40th floor of the Time & Life Building, “is that if you walked in and walked around these floors, this is an operating company.”
A tour of the place confirms that. What might seem bizarre to outsiders—Wait, didn’t Lehman go bust?—long ago became ordinary for the 340 or so employees who work here. Lehman exited bankruptcy in March, after three and a half years, and now exists solely to return money to creditors. The estate still controls tens of billions in assets, and if you would like to purchase any of it—a real estate property, say, or part of a private equity deal—its lawyers and traders will gladly take your business. Each transaction they complete moves the firm one step closer to shutting its doors for good, sometime around 2017. If Lehman Brothers is alive, then it is living on borrowed time.