Blue Blood and Mutiny
A review of the Patricia Beard book by Ed Byers ‘57
If there is any joy in growing old, it is watching history being created in real time. One such episode in our collective lifetime has been the career of Dick Fisher… Dick connected Nassau Street to Wall Street. We, the class of ‘57, were very proud to have been in the sunshine of his reflected glory.
My first recollection of him was that of a crippled boy leaning on two canes along the sidelines at Penn Charter. There was burning desire to be able to run and participate with his buddies. Later images were those of travelling to Ocean City, New Jersey with soon to be wife Emily… hanging out on the 14th street beach wearing our P.U. gym T-shirts (I still have mine). On campus Dick became a class favorite. His charismatic personality and leadership abilities were striking.
After graduation classmates dispersed along different paths and Dick Fisher was lost from my radar screen. He went to work at Morgan Stanley. While in San Francisco for a world series game and staying with a friend who happened to be the custodian for the Gianini Trust, guess who popped up? Dick was there trying to obtain management of that Trust for Morgan Stanley. He was a tireless worker which was clearly evident.
This preamble is meant to usher in his early formative years… a boy on scholarship at Penn Charter and Princeton, frustrated by his polio, and his burning ambition. Patricia Beard’s recent book, “Blue Blood and Mutiny”, relates the turmoil occurring over the last decade or so at Morgan Stanley. Dick was a major character in this morality play subtitled “the fight for the soul of Morgan Stanley”. This subtitle is important, because it was Dick who represented the continuation of Morgan’s established soul. His death triggered the impetus for the purge of the company’s management. The purge was made with the hope of restoring the ethical foundation which had eroded subsequent to the merger with Dean Witter.
On May 31, 1997 (our 40th Reunion) Dick resigned as chairman of Morgan. He and John Mack had engineered the merger of the “white shoe” Morgan with the “blue collar” Dean Witter . This marriage they felt would create the foremost financial institution in America. The two cultures clashed. The tacit agreement between Purcell and Mack with regard to the transference of the combined companies leadership never transpired. Purcell only lived in New York from Monday through Thursday. His wife wouldn’t move East. There was no transference of leadership. The firm became embroiled in costly lawsuits. They lost one suit over a question of ethics to Ron Perelman for 1.45 billion (which was later overturned). Their reputation was flagging. Its share price had plummeted. Competitive firms were outpacing them. Dick, though now retired, attempted to rectify the damage urging Purcell to step down; this only hardened the battle lines. Animosity ran rampant.
When Dick died, not one member of the firm’s board of directors attended his memorial service. This single act of disrespect triggered a meeting of old line Morgan executives to form “the Group of Eight”, a group which eventually displaced Purcell.
Though this is not a book about Dick Fisher, he was the lightening rod which sparked this fascinating episode in Wall Street drama. It was a drama of unintended consequences. The soul of a decent man ravaged by egos, greed and mendacity played out as Greek tragedy.
Patricia Beard, the author, is the niece of Anson Beard one of the Group of Eight. We might well assume she was privy to the machinations going on during the purge. She stresses that the reason for the mutiny was to reclaim the “soul” of Morgan’s culture. To the outside observer, it seems a bit of a stretch that the 330 million dollar loss in the Group’s shareholder value wasn’t a more important factor. To her credit she does allude to that fact in the last paragraph of the book.
The book is recommended reading for all those who knew him. It is, in it’s way, a tribute to one of our own.