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Lessons from Lehman Brothers

Mark Williams’ new book gets boost from COM class

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In the slide show above, students from Cheryl Ann Lambert’s class talk about marketing Mark Williams’ book, Uncontrolled Risk.

Disheartening news about the fall of Lehman Brothers just keeps coming. On Tuesday, the New York Times reported that the investment company, whose collapse in September 2008 marked the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history, used the little-known firm Hudson Castle to move risky investments off of its books. One person unsurprised by the extent of Lehman execs’ bad behavior is Mark Williams (GSM’93), whose book, Uncontrolled Risk: The Lessons of Lehman Brothers and How Systemic Risk Can Still Bring Down the World Financial System (McGraw-Hill), is published this week.

The book’s sales may benefit from news reports like those in the Times, but the School of Management executive-in-residence and master lecturer has found another way to get the word out, with help from students in the College of Communication public relations class of Cheryl Ann Lambert, a COM assistant professor.

In a complementary union of skill sets from two BU schools, the COM class helped Williams use a Web site, social media, and targeted outreach to market his book.

“I knew how to research and write, but I learned quickly that I knew nothing about how to market a book,” says Williams, a risk management practitioner who also is a guest columnist for Reuters.com, Forbes.com, and the Boston Globe. “Half the job is writing, the other half is figuring out how to get your message out.”

Lambert divided the class into groups to target media, research the online environment, and build the online platform. The Web site, built by students in the class, chronicles the rise and fall of Lehman Brothers and includes Williams’ bio and a brief synopsis of the book. The class also used social media to reach out on Facebook and Twitter.

“They did things I wouldn’t have been able to do,” says Williams. “I found myself listening, learning, and being challenged by the students.”

Uncontrolled Risk, he says, explains why Lehman fell to earth, as well as the implications of that fall, and more important, why companies like Lehman Brothers are still vulnerable to collapse. “Lehman fell roughly 18 months ago, and there hasn’t been any financial reform. That means that at this point another Lehman can happen. We have systemic risk, and really it’s a case study of what could happen again.

”There was a lack of oversight and strong public policy,” he continues. “What happened on Wall Street was allowed to happen over a period of decades — it didn’t happen overnight. We need to hold our policy makers to a higher accountability.”

Kimberly Cornuelle can be reached at kcornuel@bu.edu; follow her on Twitter at @kcornuel.

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