Greg Lippmannn, Ex-Bubble Boy, on ‘Definition of Enough Money’

Just before I finished my story in this week’s paper, a profile of the iconic mortgage trader Greg Lippmann, it came to my attention that I had not only written about him once before, but had interviewed a member of his family. “Here’s what I’m willing to tell you,” his wife said in a very brief interview in 2007, when I was the Observer‘s real estate writer, “I loved my terrace, it was fabulous—great space for outdoor entertaining and for the kids to play.”

She was referring to the 1,731-square-foot terrace in the Wooster Street penthouse condo that Courtney Sale Ross’ daughter had bought for $7.25 million. The Lippmanns had sold the place to her, trading up for a $12.5 million penthouse nearby.

During my interview with Mr. Lippmann, the topic of money came up twice. “I like the finer things in life, but the normal-person version. I like business class, I don’t need NetJets,” he offered, saying that the goal of his new hedge fund, Libre Max, is to work at something new with people he enjoys. “Not to make oodles and oodles of money, but to control my destiny in a way that’s not possible inside an 80,000 person firm,” he said.

And yet he did reap a very large sum at his old place, Deutsche Bank, thanks to bets that the housing bubble would burst. Why not just retire? “I have young children, so I think it’s important for them to see I’m working. Everyone’s definition of enough money is different. And I may also feel that if I can make money and do something positive with that money, not just lavish it on my family, isn’t that valuable? To take a job that doesn’t pay well just to prove that I don’t care about money, I’m not sure why that’s better than saying, ‘Well, if I make a lot of money and give it to charity.’ Why is the first one better? Why is like me becoming a monk and moving to Vermont, why is that better than me making $1 million and giving $500,000 to charity or whatever?”