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Alan “Ace” Greenberg, Rest In Peace

Posted by Larry Doyle on July 29, 2014 8:45 AM |

In early 1990 after 7 fabulous years learning the ins and outs of Wall Street while working at The First Boston Corporation, I departed that venerable firm for the rough around the edges ways of Wall Street that defined Bear Stearns. I had been cautioned by some not to make that move. I am glad that I disregarded that advice.

The relationships and business acumen I gained during my 7 years (1990-1997) at “the Bear” made all the difference in the world during my days in those large Wall Street banks.

As with most organizations, the tone and culture that emanates throughout the company is set at the top. In 1990, Bear Stearns was led by Wall Street legend Alan “Ace” Greenberg. Last Friday I felt a real sadness when I learned of his passing. While I have little regard let alone respect for most of the senior level management on Wall Street, Ace Greenberg was different. I held him in the highest regard and had untold respect for him. Why so? Let me count the ways.

Ace was a winner. He cared. He was ultra-competitive but knew that rules were not meant to be broken.

He was a bridge back to the days of Wall Street partnerships when one’s word actually meant something. While many of Wall Street’s most senior executives would stroll or saunter into their offices that were typically larger than most Manhattan apartments, Ace would spend the bulk of his day firmly entrenched at his desk and meaningfully accessible right there on the trading floor.

He was renowned for writing regular memos that went throughout the firm under his pen name of Haimchinkel Malintz Anaynikal. They were absolutely priceless and filled with a simple but precious wisdom that often got lost on Wall Street amidst the sea of egos and sociopaths that ran large parts of the industry.

His writing was collected into a short book entitled Memos from the Chairman.

His direction that paper clips and elastic bands should never be purchased by anybody within the firm because more than enough of these items could be found and saved from the incoming mail went straight to instilling a real discipline around managing expenses. I particularly liked his advice that if a copier seemed to be running low on ink to take the toner out and shake it. I loved it.

He also emphasized that any calls or messages should be returned the same day. Very simply, Ace Greenberg took a very human approach in dealing with people. From the shoeshine guy to the executives running the firm, everybody was treated with fairness and respect. How refreshing.

In terms of whom he wanted to entice to come work at the Bear, he often stated he much preferred to attract individuals with a PSD than an MBA. A PSD? Yes, that being the designation for individuals who were “poor”, “smart”, and with a “deep desire to truly get ahead.” I loved it even more. Ace was my kind of guy.

Other recollections I have of Ace include his emphasis on a “trust but verify” system of risk management.

Outside of Wall Street, Ace was legendary for his acumen as a bridge player, a magician, and a true philanthropist. Ace stepped aside from his role as CEO of the firm in the mid-90s. Although every firm goes through a change during a transition, I never thought the company was the same after that. Many believe that the firm lost the humility and discipline embodied by Ace to such a degree that it led to the ultimate demise of the company in 2008.

A few years after Ace was no longer CEO, I departed Bear Stearns. I made a point of stopping by his desk and thanking him. Ever the gentleman, he took the time to inquire where I was going and why I was leaving the firm. We had a brief but meaningful chat after which he sincerely wished me all the best in my future endeavors.

Ace Greenberg was a good man. Wall Street could use more real men like him.

Rest in peace, Ace!!

Larry Doyle

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  • Crusader

    Legendary, yes…RIP…thank you for sharing

  • fairmead

    Ace did not pass-he died. What is with you Americans that you only use euphemisms to describe death? He was a considerable talent when alive, but now he is dead.

  • Rudi K On Msol

    LD, thank you for that kind tribute. I guess, once upon a time, in a land now engulfed in corruption, graft and greed, there were such men as Mr. Greenberg, that instilled a work ethic and were examples for underlings to follow.
    From my personal view: His better qualities definitely rubbed off on some; namely you, Mr. Larry Doyle.

  • Barry

    Very nice and well articulated!

    Sorry you lost an important mentor.

  • Gerry

    Ace was one of a kind.

  • Joe

    Sorry for your loss. Sounds like Ace left a large void.

  • Ed


  • Jim

    Great column. I’ve always heard wonderful things about the guy. I loved whenever I saw his memos. And Bear used to be known for risk management.

    When I was at Dean Witter, you’d see a trader fired for a big one time loss. Then you’d hear he went to Bear and then you never heard another risk management issue with the guy ever again.

    And following Ace the place was run by, to use your term, “sociopaths”.

    Don’t know how you manage to write interesting stuff everyday.

  • Ben Lieberman

    That was a really thought provoking piece. Thank you.

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