5 CEOs with the Biggest Payouts During the Global Financial Crisis Bailouts

The CEOs of many of the firms directly involved in fanning the flames of the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-2008 profited handsomely—in some cases, before their firms either collapsed or were saved by more financially sound competitors. Following are the top investors are the CEOs of the day who had among the biggest payouts. They’ve held on to the vast majority of their gains today.


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Lloyd Blankfein—Goldman Sachs

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

Goldman Sachs stock chart resembles the precipitous decline that the majority of financial-related stocks experienced as the credit crisis was peaking. In October 2007, Goldman’s stock sat pretty as high as $250 per share, but bottomed near $60 per share in December 2008.

GS share price between Dec 2007 and Dec 2008.

Image by Sabrina Jiang © Investopedia 2021

CEO Lloyd Blankfein, who announced his retirement from Goldman and was succeeded by David Solomon, was seen as one of the villains of Wall Street and its alleged exploitation of Main Street (though individuals also played their part in the housing crisis by bidding up housing prices). A famous Rolling Stone article from 2010 also suggested Goldman Sachs’s investment bank was a “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity.”

As for Blankfein’s salary during the crisis, it did suffer, dropping to a little over $1 million ($1.1 million to be exact). That’s still a healthy salary, but also a far cry from the estimated $70 million he received in 2007. His worth has been and is still likely closely tied to Goldman Sachs’s share price (he owns quite a few shares), which suffered in the downturn, but he is still estimated to be a billionaire, which he achieved as the market and Goldman stock recovered.    

Joseph Cassano—AIG Financial Products

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Joseph Cassano isn’t one of the most highly publicized CEOs from the financial crisis, but was dubbed the “Man Who Crashed the World” as the head of AIG Financial Products, which was ground zero for the creation of the credit default swaps and related financial products that fanned the flames of the Great Recession. For more on the AIG Financial Products debacle (which brought down all of insurance giant AIG in September 2008), check out Roddy Boyd’s excellent book Fatal Risk a Cautionary Tale of AIG’s Corporate Suicide.

Mr. Cassano earned an estimated $34 million in bonuses in 2008, which swiftly went to negligible levels when AIG failed. One website estimated his current net worth at $200 million, which is par for the course on executives directly involved in creating the credit crisis. Or, namely, he profited handsomely and was allowed to keep a significant portion of his bonuses and salary earned leading up to the downturn.

Vikram Pandit—Citigroup

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Money center banking giant Citigroup was officially rescued in November 2008. A New York Times article from earlier in 2008 detailed that Charles Prince III resigned as CEO in late 2007 and received a $10.4 million bonus. Mr. Pandit had earlier received an estimated $165 million when Citi bought a company he was involved in. 

Mr. Pandit took over the CEO spot and was paid $10.8 million in 2008. Citigroup lost nearly $20 billion in 2008, and its stock remains a former cry from the levels it traded at prior to the crisis. Pandit tried to make amends by accepting a $1 salary a few years after the crisis peaked, and officially retired as CEO in 2012. His net worth is thought to sit at around $120 million, to again prove another executive who didn’t suffer financially following the Great Recession.

John Thain—Merrill Lynch

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John Thain took over as CEO of Merrill Lynch and quickly became well known for spending $1.2 million to renovate his office during the downturn. That and financial turmoil cost him his job in late 2009, meaning he held among the shortest tenures of all CEOs involved in the crisis. He took the helm right around when Bank of America rescued Merrill, buying it out for $29 per share in September 2008 (within days of when AIG failed). One Financial Times articled summed up his Merrill tenure: “Flashes of arrogance and misjudgment, not to mention the insubordination of his top lieutenants from Merrill Lynch, were becoming apparent to his new bosses at BofA—who were themselves keenly aware that the old Masters of the Universe banking model was done for. John Thain’s world had changed, even if he hadn’t."

Thain’s estimated net worth is around $100 million. He had more success taking lender CIT out of bankruptcy, and on the path to recovery.

Richard Fuld—Lehman Brothers

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Lehman Brothers was a rare victim during the financial crisis in that it was allowed to go completely bankrupt. Dick Fuld was at the helm in September 2008 when Lehman closed its doors. Excessive leverage and direct involved by two of the firms hedge funds were among the first indications that the credit crisis was going to be severe.

Mr. Fuld’s compensation in 2007 was an estimated $34.38 million, and his net worth is estimated north of $250 million. He might have been a billionaire were it not for the fact his Lehman shares became worthless. 

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