Over the past week, Dr. Lerner has had a front-row seat to the implosion of Mr. Bankman-Fried’s empire. First, the dramatic collapse of FTX, which followed what was the equivalent of a bank run set off by a rival crypto exchange. Then, the revelations about a multibillion-dollar shortfall on FTX’s balance sheet, which reportedly stemmed from money it funneled to Alameda Research, a crypto hedge fund that was closely tied to FTX, and a mysterious hack that left more than $500 million missing from FTX’s covers. And now, the many, many furious FTX customers, regulators and law enforcement officials who are demanding to know what happened, and where all the money went.
Dr. Lerner declined to say whether he had talked to Mr. Bankman-Fried since the bankruptcy. He has been focused on helping FTX’s employees come to grips with what happened, he said.
“I’ve been kind of hand-holding, making sure that people get safely back home,” he said.
In recent days, much has been made of FTX’s unusual corporate culture. The company, which had about 300 employees, was run mainly by 20-somethings, some of whom shared Mr. Bankman-Fried’s interest in effective altruism. Some FTX employees lived together in a palatial group house. Several are, or used to be, in romantic relationships with one another, including Mr. Bankman-Fried, who had dated Alameda Research’s chief executive, Caroline Ellison.
Details about the romantic pairings reported by CoinDesk last week led some gossips on Twitter to dub FTX a “polycule,” a term for a web of non-monogamous relationships.
But Dr. Lerner rejected that idea, saying the company’s culture was far from orgiastic.
“It’s a pretty tame place,” Dr. Lerner said. “The higher-ups, they mostly played chess and board games. There was no partying. They were undersexed, if anything.”
Dr. Lerner, 46, described FTX as a company filled with hard-working and cerebral young people who believed deeply in the company’s mission. Many had moved to the Bahamas from big cities in the United States and Asia, he said. Few employees went out at night or made local friends; mostly, he said, they spent long days and nights at the office.