“Lehman Sisters” – Would Banks Be Better If More Were Run By Women?

Would Lehman Brothers have been better off if it had been “Lehman Sisters”?

A Wall Street Journal article titled, “Banks Run by Women Might Be Less Vulnerable in a Crisis,” mentions a similar quip made in 2008 by Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund: “If Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Sisters, today’s economic crisis clearly would look quite different.”

Beyond finding Lagarde’s comment intriguing because I was a Managing Director at Lehman Brothers (more on this later), I found the article to be interesting based on an experience and research.

In 2015, I was honored to be a speaker at the 25th Dynamic Women In Business Conference at Harvard Business School.  The Women’s Student Association, which is a Harvard Business School Club, sponsored the event.

I became associated with the Harvard Women’s Student Association due to my work with another Harvard organization, Smart Woman Securities (SWS).  I was fortunate enough to be one of SWS’s first speakers and have remained involved most every year since 2006.

Among studies that I keep coming back to when prepping for events with SWS is one by Terry Odean, Chair of the Finance Group at the Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley, titled “Boys Will Be Boys: Gender Overconfidence and Common Stock Investment.

After analyzing the performance of over 35,000 brokerage accounts, Odean’s “Boys Will Be Boys” research found the following:

“Men can view investing as a game rather than as a business…” and “trade more than women…” which “reduces men’s net returns by 2.65% a year…”

“Overconfidence can lead men to take on too much risk and… tend to believe their interpretation of news and market movement is sound… [even when] this isn’t as true as they may think.”

Are these sorts of findings at the root of Christine Lagarde’s “Lehman Sisters” quote?

I don’t know specifically, but I am reminded of the culture at Lehman Brothers heading into the financial crisis every day. In my office, I keep a cube that was handed out to all Lehman employees to remind everyone of Lehman’s “operating principles” (see lead photo or below). It is a stark reminder to stay humble and that actions speak louder than words.


In my time at Lehman, which included a few meetings with Lehman’s CEO Dick Fuld, I found that “the culture” in parts of the firm was “lead with your chin” and boys’ clubby.

Was that male-dominated environment prone to taking on too much dangerous risk and in contravention of the “smart risk management” goal on the Lehman cube?

The fall of Lehman suggests maybe so.

At a minimum, the cube reminds me daily about the dangers of overconfidence that are highlighted in Odean’s “Boys Will Be Boys” research findings.

So, do I think Lagarde was correct in suggesting that Wall Street banks would have been in better shape in 2008 with more women in leadership positions?


Do I think Wall Street banks would be better now with more women in leadership positions?


And, do I think we men could be better investors by following the lead of more women?


When I spoke at Harvard’s Dynamic Women in Business Conference, I ended my remarks by saying, “we need more women in finance and on Wall Street.”

I will end this piece by adding only a few points to that:



Preston McSwain is a Managing Partner and Founder of Fiduciary Wealth Partners, an SEC registered investment advisor committed to forming fiduciary wealth partnerships with clients, professional colleagues, and the community. To see more of his posts, and follow him on social media, please visit the following:


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