James “Jimmy” Cayne, the swaggering bridge-champion Wall Street CEO who led investment bank Bear Stearns during its rise and ultimate fall that would serve as a touchstone for the financial crisis of 2008, has died at age 87.
Cayne died Tuesday days after suffering a stroke, according to a report in Bloomberg.
One of the financial world’s most colorful figures and once among the richest people in the U.S., Cayne rose from broker to president and then CEO at Bear Stearns, which he helped shape as a major player in the financial and deal-making world. All the while, he was a world-class bridge player and sponsor whose teams won multiple North American championships.
Ultimately, his legacy was tied to both endeavors.
He presided over Bear for more than 20 years as president and later as CEO, stepping down from an institution that had been in business since around the turn of the 20th century. The investment bank’s demise came after it gambled on risky mortgages known as subprime loans that would corrode the balance sheets of some of finance’s biggest names.
Bear Stearns merged with JPMorgan Chase in March 2008 in a bargain-basement deal at $2 a share, a price that ultimately would be bumped up to $10 but still represented a precipitous fall for one of the Street’s most venerated names.
The collapse was the first major component in a domino effect for Wall Street. Lehman Brothers’ failure on Sept. 15, 2008, was the biggest event of the crisis, but multiple other firms closed or needed to be rescued as part of the worst economic downturn at that point since the Great Depression.
As for Cayne, he was forced out of his role as CEO in January 2008 after the firm recorded its first quarterly loss ever.
Cayne was faulted during the crisis; he reportedly was playing bridge as the deal with JPMorgan was being negotiated, even though he was still a company official.
Following the demise of Bear, Cayne faded from view in the financial world. He leaves behind his wife, Patricia, two daughters and seven grandchildren.