While most of us were busy clinging to jobs, hoarding cash and delaying retirement plans, a few lucky people capitalized on the opportunities created by the Great Recession of 2008.
You have to admit, Nouriel Roubini was screaming 'danger' from the mountaintops well before the financial system fell apart. The NYU professor of economics had been dismissed as somewhat of a fringe element when in September 2006 he told the IMF, 'The United States was likely to face a once-in-a-lifetime housing bust, an oil shock, sharply declining consumer confidence and, ultimately, a deep recession.'Labeled 'Dr. Doom' by the New York Times and CNBC, Roubini has found widespread acclaim in light of his foretelling of the recession. Nowadays, when Roubini speaks, the markets listen. Dr. Doom was ranked #4 on Foreign Policy magazine's list of the 'top 100 global thinkers.' Additionally, he has spoken before Congress and the influential Council on Foreign Relations.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Before Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote the book Fooled by Randomness in 2001, he was a financier, having worked at world-renowned financial institutions including UBS, Banque Indosuez and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Fooled By Randomness brought him distinction as a writer with a keen understanding of financial markets, but his follow-up, The Black Swan, published with perfect timing in 2007, truly launched him to rock-star status.
Like Roubini, Taleb spotted the Ponzi scheme that was our financial system years ahead of the crowd, and he wasn't shy about taking the banks to task. He recognized that with widespread sharing of risk comes the greater chance of a devastating domino effect. When his prophecies came to fruition, his books gained increased notoriety for having foretold the crash.
Camera-ready and smart as a whip, Meredith Whitney became the face of the financial crisis. While working at Oppenheimer & Co., she became the go-to banking analyst after publishing a research report in 2007 that predicted the demise of Citigroup, an outcome that seemed outlandish at the time. In the midst of the financial crisis, her analysis had the ability to dramatically move share prices.
Following this and other bold calls on the crumbling financial system, Whitney was named CNBC's 2008 'Power Player of the Year', beating out JPMorgan's CEO Jamie Dimon, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson. Whitney left Oppenheimer in early 2009 to start her own equity research firm, the Meredith Whitney Advisory Group.
Lloyd Blankfein led Goldman Sachs through financial turmoil and came out stronger, much stronger, on the other side. By teaming up with America's favorite investor, Warren Buffett, Blankfein secured both strong financial backing and a de facto 'seal of approval' for Goldman, signaling to the markets that Goldman was here to stay.
When markets began to collapse and the government decided to bail out firms that were 'too big to fail,' it didn't hurt Goldman's chances that Blankfein was good friends with the Secretary of the Treasury at the time (and former Goldmanite), Henry 'Hank' Paulson. Goldman received federal TARP money and weathered the storm.
Once the destruction of Bear Stearns, Lehman Bros. and Merrill Lynch cleared the way to utter market domination, Goldman paid back its $10 billion of TARP funds and cast off the yoke of government. The market rally in 2009 allowed Goldman to rake in over $13 billion in profits and secure its post as American's most prestigious investment bank.
John Paulson (no relation to former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson) was a relative unknown when he formed his own hedge fund in 1994. But by the end of 2007, he'd pulled off what many believe to be the biggest payday in Wall Street history with his $3.7 billion winning bet against subprime mortgages.
Paulson is now considered a leading authority on everything from financial regulation to gold, and his opinions and fund positions are endlessly scrutinized by the financial media.
Congressman Ron Paul, formerly a physician in Clear Lake, Texas, is the face of the emerging Libertarian party. Paul has run for president several times, and there is much speculation about another campaign in 2012. His son, Rand Paul, is currently the Republican Party's nominee for a Kentucky Senate seat.
Paul's political and economic views, which include abolishing the Federal Reserve and the federal income tax, were once seen as too radical for the mainstream. But today, many fiscal conservatives have hopped on Paul's bandwagon in protest of massive deficit spending. The rise of the Tea Party, which champions many of Paul's beliefs, has only solidified his position as the spokesman of fiscal conservatism.