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Rise And Fall Of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.

Men in suits, a cotton plant and and a long black table – this is the success story of Lehman Brothers which is brought onto the stages of the German Theatre by Stefano Massini, a masterpiece, very smart and very catching.

Everything started in Alabama Montgomery, Henry Lehman (born Hayum Lehmann) was a Jew born and raised in Rimpar, Germany. In the mid 1800s he moved to Alabama driven by his own part of the American dream. He founded a humble textile shop, selling cotton fabrics and the new trend – Jeans! 

Soon his brothers Emanuel and Mayer joined him, expanding the business. They make their plans on the long black table in their humble shop.

The plantation where they usually got their cotton from, had to build up because of a huge fire that destroyed their whole plants. Throughout this, the Lehman Brothers took the chance and financed their plantation owners tools and got one third of the crop in controversy. 

That’s the beginning of their ‚Lehman Brothers Cotton Shop‘. Time flew and they managed to sell to 27 different cotton factories. 

Lehman Brothers finally moved to New York City in the late 1800s and could sell their high quality cotton from Alabama to different business man. ‘Lehman Brothers Cotton from Alabama’ established.

When the Great War of North and South began, they financed their plantations and bought slaves free, at the beginning, but when the eldest, founder Henry, died at the age of 33, they changed their business strategy: no more cotton but the black gold – coffee! In New York you could literally make money out of everything! 

Over the years the family grew in its second generation and invested in coffee, steel and tobacco, they became traders and established what we know today as the stockmarket. The long black table on stage gets the table hanging on the wall of the stock exchange.

Their children attend schools with the same of the Goldmans, the Stanleys and the Sachs. Daddy asks his 2-years-old son Philip which states he deals with and Philip answers well: „Colorado, South Carolina, Mississippi, Denver,…..“, Emanuel proudly calls his son „Wunderkind“ , a so-called child prodigy.

They financed United railways connecting East and West, it was a 9 Million dollar deal, and so they established their own bank, lending money and getting an interest paid, also getting money from those who wanted to invest and giving it those who needed it to grow. That’s basically what they did. Actors on the stage replace the fictive ‘Lehman Brothers Cotton from Alabama’ sign with ‘Lehman Brothers Bank’.

In the early 1900s they financed World War I and gained trust after America had won the war. Millions of people bought stocks from Lehman Brothers, their business idea had manifested. At the age of 67, Mayer Lehman died followed by his elder brother Emanuel a few years later. 

The founders were gone.

In their third generation they had to go through tough days during the Great Depression in the 1920s. They could survive the ongoing months, so they were saved by the US government to rehab. Lehman Brothers were still alive and Robert, the grandson of the Lehmans, invested in the so-called science fiction these days: he enabled the great mass to have a computer, a television, a car. And the great mass loved Lehman Brothers. 

They kept on investing their money into stocks, papers without any real object in behind. Robert also knew that politics and finance go together: Lehman Brothers offered Pension Fonds and unemployment insurance at Lehman Brothers. They were successful till people started demanding their money. The Lehmans, balancing on chairs for real, didn’t see their end. 

Robert Lehman literally dances the twist on stage with his fellows from London, Dubai, Shanghai and the rest of the world, Lehman gets investors and doesn’t decide alone from now on. They do a Monday brunch on the long black table each week.

When Robert Lehman dies at the age of 77, without any descendants, Lehman Brothers Bank stays in authorities of foreign presidents, no blood related, only foreigners. They manage to ruin the family business, Henry, Emanuel, Mayer, Philip and Robert get a phone call on stage, silence, strain, Henry hangs up. „It‘s dead!“ he says. The lights turn off. The clarinet plays a Jewish mourning song. Applause.


Written by Mevy



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