Oklahoma City native and Wall Street legend Alan “Ace” Greenberg has died. He was 86.
Greenberg grew up in Oklahoma City, and returned regularly to visit his mother until her death in 2005. He attended the University of Oklahoma on a football scholarship, but a back injury ended his athletic career and he graduated from the University of Missouri.
Greenberg started at Bear Stearns in 1949, became a partner 11 years later and was named CEO in 1978. He added the role of board chairman in 1985 and became chairman of the executive committee in 2001. He stepped down as CEO in 1988.
During Greenberg’s tenure as an old-school, cigar-smoking trader, Bear Stearns grew to be one of the most profitable investment banks in existence. He was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1995.
After the firm’s 2008 collapse amid heavy investment in the subprime mortgage market, Greenberg wrote “The Rise and Fall of Bear Stearns,” he said, to set the record straight.
When Greenberg appeared at an Oklahoma City bookstore four years ago to sign copies, waiting in line was OU President David Boren.
“He’s the only one who calls me at the end of the year and says, ‘I’ve got some money left over. You want some scholarships?’” Boren said.
The book-signing event ended after customers bought all of Greenberg’s books, including copies of his earlier book, “Memos From The Chairman,” a collection of his notes to employees that included such advice as “Forget the chain of command! If you think somebody is going off the wall or his/her decision-making stinks, go around the person, and that includes me.”
In the Bear Stearns book, Greenberg recounted mistakes, including his own, that contributed to the firm’s downfall. But he didn’t lay the blame on any single person or entity.
“It’s evolution,” he said at the 2010 book-signing. “The strong survive and the weak don’t. That’s the way it ought to be.”
After the firm sold, Greenberg pledged $200 a month for six years to each of the company’s 27 developmentally disabled employees.
Greenberg considered it “one of the major insults of my life” that neither of his hometown newspapers — The Oklahoman and The New York Times — printed a letter he wrote proposing a new method of determining a quarterback’s responsibility for interceptions.
Greenberg published the letter in full in his last book. The Oklahoman printed the letter in 2010.
Into his 80s, Greenberg continued to work at JPMorgan — “but just five days a week,” played high-stakes bridge, performed sleight of hand on request, hunted and fished regularly and still found time to return to Oklahoma City from time to time.
More than six decades after leaving Oklahoma City, he said, “it’s always fun coming home.”