The Faces of Too Big to Fail

  1. 2008: Banks on the Brink
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    2008: Banks on the Brink

    What began in 2007 as a collapse of "sub-prime" real estate loans spread in 2008 to threaten Wall Street's most powerful banks--and, eventually, everything from small business lending to money market funds. The financial crisis dominated the first term of new President Barack Obama, spawned two different protest movements--the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street--and pulled everyone from bank CEOs to Warren Buffett's secretary into a debate over regulation and taxation. (Left, bank CEOs Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs [GS], Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase [JPM], John Mack of Morgan Stanley [MS], and Brian Moynihan of Bank of America [BAC] testify before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission on January 13, 2010.) What follows is a look at some of the key characters in the financial crisis and where they are now.

    Photograph by Melissa Golden/Redux

  2. Wall Street's Worst Day
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    Wall Street's Worst Day

    Richard Fuld
    Ex-CEO, Lehman Brothers

    On Sept. 15, 2008, Lehman Brothers--unable to find a buyer or to convince the federal government to save it--filed the biggest bankruptcy case in U.S. history. It was the first sign that the crisis might spin out of control, and no one was more shaken than the hyper-competitive Fuld, whose Street nickname was "the Gorilla." Fuld was criticized for waiting too long to seek a private buyer; a later investigation by a court-appointed examiner accused Lehman of using "accounting gimmicks" to hide its risky bets on mortgage bonds. Fuld took a job in May 2010 with Legend Securities, a small New York investment firm, but left after less than two years amid heavy regulatory scrutiny over how much business he was bringing in, according to the New York Post.

    Photograph by Doug Mills/The New York Times via Redux

  3. BofA's Slow Recovery
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    BofA's Slow Recovery

    Brian Moynihan
    CEO, Bank of America [BAC]

    Moynihan faced one of the biggest cleanup jobs on Wall Street when he took over from Ken Lewis in early 2010. He cut 30,000 jobs, sold $33 billion of assets, and pulled back on mortgage lending. BofA's stock was the worst performer in the Dow Jones Industrial Average in 2011, but is the Dow's biggest winner so far in 2012.

    Photograph by Melissa Golden/Redux

  4. Last Man Standing
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    Last Man Standing

    Timothy Geithner
    U.S. Treasury Secretary

    Geithner got off to a rough start in Washington. His first attempt to restore faith in the banking system led to a nearly 5 percent drop in stocks. However the Treasury's stress tests for banks were tough and marked a turnaround in the financial crisis. Geithner, the last remaining member of President Obama's economics team, says he doesn't expect to return if Obama wins re-election.

    Photograph by Doug Mills/The New York Times via Redux

  5. Bailout Czar
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    Bailout Czar

    Neel Kashkari
    Ex-Assistant Treasury Secretary

    At just 35 years old, Kashkari -- a former mechanical engineer and Goldman Sachs [GS] vice president -- was put in charge of the Administration's controversial $700 billion bank bailout program. He left less than a year later and today is the chief stock picker for Pimco, the Newport Beach, Calif., investment house.

    Photograph by Brendam Smialowski/The New York Times via Redux

  6. Hero or Villain
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    Hero or Villain

    Barney Frank
    Ex-Chairman, House Financial Services Committee

    One of the quickest wits in Washington, Frank proved a strident advocate of financial re-regulation--and an easy target for those who fought it. He co-authored the signature Dodd-Frank law, which increases oversight of hedge funds and "systemically risky" financial institutions, tightens reporting for financial advisers, and creates new regulatory bodies. Whether it will prevent the next bank meltdown is an open question. Frank will step down in 2013 after more than 30 years in the House.

    Photograph by Melissa Golden/Redux

  7. Biggest Banker
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    Biggest Banker

    Jamie Dimon
    CEO, JPMorgan Chase [GS]

    JPMorgan accepted $25 billion in taxpayer financing as part of the federal bank bailout. It quickly paid the money back and has emerged as the biggest and most profitable U.S. bank. Dimon has been one of the most vocal defenders of his industry, pushing back against the "hostility" facing banks and financial executives, and lobbying to have post-crisis rules relaxed.

    Photograph by Melissa Golden/Redux

  8. Banker of Last Resort
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    Banker of Last Resort

    Ben Bernanke
    Chairman, Federal Reserve

    Under Bernanke, the Fed has taken unprecedented steps to spur growth, holding the federal funds interest rate near zero and buying $2.3 trillion of bonds. Critics blast him for risking inflation and politicizing the Fed; GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney says he would not reappoint Bernanke past his second four-year term, which ends on Jan. 31, 2014. But so far prices have remained tame and demand for U.S. bonds is strong.

    Photograph by Drew Angerer/The New York Times via Redux

  9. Back to Basics
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    Back to Basics

    Vikram Pandit
    CEO,  Citigroup [C]

    The modern Citi was made possible by financial deregulation passed in 1999--and it was that "too big to fail" organization that nearly collapsed in the 2008 crisis. Pandit became CEO in December 2007; the bank lost $29.3 billion over the next two years and required a $45 billion U.S. taxpayer bailout. For the past two years, Pandit has worked to shrink the bank that Sandy Weill and John Reed built into the country's largest, slashing jobs and other costs to pull it back into the black.

    Photograph by Mark Lennihan/AP Photo

  10. The Enforcer
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    The Enforcer

    Henry M. Paulson Jr.
    U.S. Treasury Secretary, 2006-2009

    Paulson is perhaps best known amid the 2008 financial crisis for forcing large banks to take federal money regardless of whether they wanted to do so, arguing that the government's stakes in the biggest institutions were necessary to avoid a loss of market confidence and further worsening of the liquidity crisis. Paulson was also instrumental in persuading Congress to appropriate $700 billion to create the Troubled Asset Relief Program. In early 2010, Paulson released a personal history of the crisis, "On the Brink: Inside the Race to Stop the Collapse of the Global Financial System."

    Photograph by Todd Heisler/The New York Times via Redux

  11. The Deep Pockets
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    The Deep Pockets

    Warren Buffett
    CEO, Berkshire-Hathaway

    The billionaire 'Oracle of Omaha' was a critical source of funds for Wall Street banks during and after the crisis. In September 2008, Buffett invested $5 billion in Goldman Sachs [GS] with an annual dividend of 10 percent -- a move that has paid off handsomely for Berkshire Hathaway [BRK-B] shareholders. A month after the Goldman deal, Buffett invested some $3 billion in General Electric [GE] for a 10 percent dividend, and in 2011 put $5 billion into Bank of America [BAC] stock, for a 6 percent dividend. Buffett has a history as a checkbook savior-opportunist: In 1997, he invested $700 million to keep Salomon Inc. afloat.

    Photograph by Bloomberg

  12. A Brief Tenure
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    A Brief Tenure

    John A. Thain
    Ex-CEO, Merrill Lynch

    Thain, the former head of the New York Stock Exchange, was in high demand in late 2007 as a potential leader for both Citigroup [C] and Merrill Lynch, which were seeking new CEOs. He became head of Merrill in November 2007, and oversaw massive writedowns of the firm's troubled assets. In late 2008, Thain helped to engineer the firm's sale to Bank of America for roughly $50 billion. Months later, he resigned amid tension with BofA CEO Ken Lewis over large losses from Merrill Lynch. Thain is now chairman and chief executive of CIT [CIT], a major financing company.

    Photograph by Fred R. Conrad

  13. The Holdout
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    The Holdout

    John J. Mack
    Ex-CEO, Morgan Stanley

    A virtual lifer at Morgan Stanley [MS], Mack first joined the firm in 1972 as a trader and became CEO in 2005. He resisted calls that the firm sell itself during the depth of the crisis and worked to secure a $9 billion rescue from the Japanese bank Mitsubishi UFJ in exchange for a 21 percent stake. Mack retired from Morgan's Stanley board in 2011 but remains a senior advisor to the firm.

    Photograph by Doug Mills/The New York Times via Redux

  14. The Persister
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    The Persister

    Jeffrey R. Immelt
    CEO, General Electric

    Despite its diversity as a conglomerate with a $200 billion market cap, General Electric [GE] suffered mightily in the financial crisis due to lending exposure at its GE Finance unit. In October 2008, the company was forced to sell $12 billion in common stock to the public and $3 billion in preferred stock to Warren Buffett to bolster its liquidity. GE repurchased the preferred stake from Buffett for $3.3 billion in October 2011. Immelt also chairs President Barack Obama's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.

    Photograph by Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times via Redux

  15. "Doing God's Work"
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    "Doing God's Work"

    Lloyd Blankfein
    CEO, Goldman Sachs

    Like many of its Wall Street brethren, Goldman Sachs [GS] was forced by market turmoil to convert to a bank-holding company in 2008 as a way to secure new liquidity. In the depths of the crisis the bank rushed to raise $10 billion in new capital, half via an expensive preferred stock issue to Warren Buffett. After the crisis, Goldman was roundly criticized for its role in creating exotic mortgage products that other clients of the firm planned to profit from by betting against. In 2010, the firm agreed to pay $550 million over the arrangements. The prior year, Blankfein told a London newspaper that his bankers were 'doing God's work' for their role in society.

    Photography by Melissa Golden/Redux

  16. The Regulation Co-Architect
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    The Regulation Co-Architect

    Christopher Dodd
    Ex-Senator, D-Conn.

    Even with 30 years in the Senate, it is likely that Chris Dodd may be most remembered for the 2010 law that bears his name, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. The measure was a response to the 2008 financial crisis, which exposed numerous shortcomings in regulatory oversight of Wall Street banks deemed "too big to fail." Dodd is now the CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America.

    Photograph by Doug Mills/The New York Times via Redux

  17. The Fixer
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    The Fixer

    Ben Bernanke
    Chairman, Federal Reserve

    Bernanke, a scholar of the Great Depression during his years as an academic, vowed at his 2006 swearing in that he would make the Fed more transparent. The financial crisis hasn't stopped him. Bernanke became the first Fed chairman to hold regular press conferences, he set a numeric goal for inflation, and--after being sued in federal court by Bloomberg News--the Fed released more than 29,000 pages of data about its low-cost lending to banks. Despite recent signs of a jobs recovery, Bernanke has made clear the cleanup job isn't done--the Fed's benchmark interest rate will stay near zero through late 2014, he told the Senate Budget Committee in February.

    Photograph by Stephen Crowley/The New York Times via Redux