Richard Fuld, former CEO of Lehman Brothers, sounded at turns defensive and contemplative in his first public comments since his bank folded in 2008, helping to set off the financial crisis.
"I thought it was time," said Fuld, who has kept a low public profile since then. "Time for me to raise my ugly head."
In his prepared statement Thursday, the former Wall Street mogul said it wasn't one firm that caused the crisis but a "perfect storm" of factors, beginning with government housing policy that lowered lending standards. He praised the compensation system that gave employees ownership of Lehman stock, remarking that the firm had "27,000 risk managers because they all owned a piece of the firm."
Nicknamed the "Gorilla" of Wall Street, Fuld oversaw Lehman's ill-fated plunge into subprime mortgages, which blew up spectacularly in 2008.
But in his remarks, delivered at the 2015 Marcum MicroCap Conference in New York, Fuld defended the bank's financials at the time of its collapse. "Lehman Brothers in September 2008 was not a bankrupt company," he said.
His defenses of Lehman were met with skepticism on social media.
Did Dick Fuld really just say that he thinks all of Lehman Brother's employees were 'risk managers?' That actually explains a lot.
— John Carney (@carney) May 28, 2015
In congressional hearings held in the wake of the financial crisis, Fuld weathered biting scorn and complaints from senators over his $500 million pay package. His speaking fee for Thursday's conference, which he said amounted to five figures, went to the nonprofit Harlem Children's Zone.
After his fall from grace in 2008, Fuld quietly set up a small consulting firm called Matrix Advisors. He also tried his hand at teaching, doing a brief stint at Harlem Children Zone.
Fuld extolled the late Lehman Brothers as "one of the great Wall Street banks," pointing specifically to its culture and teamwork. By the end of his speech, Fuld waxed poetic. "No regrets," he said. "I'm OK, we're OK. Enjoy the ride."