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Lehman CEO Should Throw in the Towel


He fought the good fight, but it's time to go.

I don't actually want Lehman (LEH) CEO Dick Fuld investigated. I'm willing to assume that Mr. Fuld did his danged best to win the fight against this crisis, and did so with Lehman's best interests at heart - in fact, from what little I know about him, Mr. Fuld probably doesn't distinguish between his own best interests and Lehman's. I assume Richard Fuld did his best - and has acted ethically.

But he didn't win. He's losing horribly, and it's time for him to go.

Fuld isn't John Dillinger - or even Ken Lay, for that matter. Fuld is Joe Frazier, beaten senseless in Manila during the late rounds of his classic battle against Ali.

It was sultry hot in Manila that morning. Ali's gloves had become soggy, with all the padding soaked like plaster of Paris at the ends of his knuckles. Ali wasn't just hitting Frazier in the late rounds. He was giving the pugilist's version of a pistol-whipping.

You can watch the Thrilla in Manila through the magic of Youtube:

At the 4:47 point of this clip, Ali resorts to leaning back against the ropes to, in effect, catapult his right, weighted, soggy fist into Frazier's blinded head. It's an old-pro boxing move.

Ali wasn't a huge puncher at the time. He was tired, past his prime and he had Novocaine injections in his knuckles before fights, meaning he couldn't make tight fists. But he loathed Frazier, he weighed 220 pounds and he was the heavyweight champion of the world.

Frazier, blind in one eye and with the other swollen shut, never saw the punch coming.

After the combination which culminated in the bouncing pot shot off the ropes, Frazier had a choice: He could sit there and emerge from the fight with his reputation still intact for everyone in the world - everyone, that is, excluding himself. Because of his enormous pride, Frazier took the punch, took a few dozen more, and then had to be led back to the correct corner by the ref after the bell. Joe had no earthly idea where he was (he couldn't see a thing); he just knew he wasn't going to quit in front of Ali.

Frazier's lead cornerman, Eddie Futch, took it upon himself to tell Frazier the one thing he couldn't bear to hear. It was over. "The world will never forget what you did tonight," Futch told his man. "But it's over. I'm not letting you out there for the 15th."

Frazier never forgave Futch, though the man may have saved Frazier's life by stopping the fight.

Right now, Mr. Fuld needs a board member to stop the fight, regardless of Fuld's desires. Fuld is great. He's done his best. Losing to this credit mess has no more shame in it than losing to Ali. Like Frazier and Ali, Fuld beat the credit crisis monster once, back in 1998. No one can take that victory away from him.

But it's time for him to go. Fuld is done. He and Lehman simply can't win. They're too far gone. Fuld is blind, and Lehman is being bludgeoned by a force of nature. Both Fuld and Lehman are sacrificing their dignity and future with this flailing about. The CEO needs a board member who cares about him enough to stop the fight and demand his resignation, so Lehman can lie down with some dignity. It's all they have left.

Were I in a corner office at Lehman or on their board of directors, I'd be waving it off. I'd be telling my man that I love him, he'd done his best and no one would ever forget what he'd done. But I would not be letting him take any more abuse tonight.

Fuld's dignity is slipping away. He needs someone to quit for him. He needs a friend to stop the fight and finish the job of liquidating Lehman while the once-proud operation still has some choice about how it's done.

I don't think Fuld has an Eddie Futch on the board. This story is going to end very badly. Not only don't I want to touch the shares, I'm a little sickened by watching this story unfold.
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