As the economy crumbled around them, 32 business experts gathered in the finest room at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City on Tuesday to discuss the United States’ financial peril.

The discussion panel, organized by the School of Management, drew some of the University’s most business-savvy professors and alumni, as well as experts from several other top institutions and corporations. At the event, participants discussed the future of the financial services industry, the government bailout plan and the causes of the country’s economic crisis.

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The event — which was co-sponsored by the Wall Street Journal and CNBC — was meant to allow experts a chance to lend their “experience, scholarly objectivity and rigorous analysis” at a time when they could make a difference, said SOM Senior Associate Dean Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, the organizer of the event.

In an e-mail to the News, SOM Dean Joel Podolny said the panel reflected the SOM’s “nimbleness in responding to and addressing the major events of the day.”

“There was a broad consensus [among the panelists] that something radical had to be done to be address the crisis,” he wrote. “Roughly half felt that the bailout plan — as understood at the time of the panel — was probably the best option.”

During the panel, William Donaldson ’53, founder of the SOM and a former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, reflected on the urgent need to pass some form of bailout plan.

“If we don’t, we’ll have the greatest crisis of confidence throughout the world,” he said during the panel, according to the Wall Street Journal. “The institutions of regulation have outrun the modern financial institutions of our society.”

Today, Congress will vote on a $700 billion bailout bill that seeks to improve the country’s economy by purchasing mortgage-backed securities from investment banks.

Donaldson went on to call the bailout the “opening act” of the government’s response to the crisis, adding that no major changes could take place until the next president and Congress assume office.

Nancy Peretsman SOM ’79, managing director of the investment bank Allen & Co, pointed out that some financial institutions have grown to levels difficult for their leaders, shareholders and even regulators to understand.

“I’m not sure the different entities that regulated them knew what was going on,” she said at the panel, according to the Wall Street Journal.”

W.L. Ross & Co. CEO Wilber Ross ’59 said the root of the current financial crisis was the “squeezing of middle class America” during the 21st century.

“Just as regular consumer debt was getting unmanageable, the fortuitous combination of securitization and the rising residential real estate market came to pass, and that’s the only reason this problem didn’t occur a lot sooner,” he said. “I don’t think it’s anything other than a big problem that was going to happen in some form anyway.”

Among the other 32 participants were Paul Calello, CEO of Credit Suisse; Steven Schwartzman, CEO of the Blackstone group; and Scott Schoen ’80, co-president of Thomas H. Lee Partners.

Videos of the panelists’ comments were prominently featured on the Journal’s online media content, and several panelists were quoted in Journal articles about their statements in the panel. The content drew significant attention, Sonnenfeld said, and became the cover of the Web site for the business journal “Directorship,” drawing a record-setting response.