Thomas Russo, the former vice chairman and chief legal officer of Lehman Brothers, met last night with students in a Community Forum discussion about the financial crisis. Russo will be teaching the half-term summer course “Credit Crisis: As Seen Through Different Lenses.”

In a 45-minute presentation, followed by a Q&A, Russo gave his perspective on the origins and fallout of the crisis. One topic he focused on was the changing role of leverage for banks.

“Leverage now has a lot of bad things attached to it, but that’s the way we make money,” he said. “If you change leverage, you are limiting profitability.”

He predicted that it will be easier for smaller firms to make money in the future because they will not be encumbered by the enormous cost structures and lack of flexibility that larger institutions have.

“Since banks won’t have leverage down the road, it will be harder in the institutional sense to make money,” he said. “There will be more opportunity to make money outside the institution. Things in the future will be developed by smaller entities.”

Segueing into advice for future CEOs in the audience, Russo said the most important thing to remember was to have multiple points of view.

“You have to put yourself in other people’s shoes,” he advised. “Understand that every problem has many sides and if you’re in the decision-making role, you have to look at all of them.”

Photo credit: Antonio Morales Garcia