10 years ago I had my first experience of life not going as I had planned. As I walked into work on the morning of 15th September 2008 I was handed a piece of paper telling me that all was not well! I headed to the graduate training I had that day. When I got to the training room I sat with the other graduates, exchanging stories of what we had heard all trying to piece together what could be going on. As the head of our graduate scheme walked in to the room and burst into tears, I think we all managed to fill in the gaps ourselves.
After working with Lehman Brothers for my third year at university, my year in industry, I had worked as hard as I could focused on getting the degree I needed to be accepted onto the graduate scheme. I can remember receiving the phone call that told me I had a place, I had made it onto one of the top graduate schemes the banking world had to offer. Finally the hard work had paid off, I was given a role back in the team I had worked in with Andrew and l couldn’t have been happier.
I started back at Lehman Brothers on the graduate scheme on 8th September 2008. Just one weeks later on the 15th September 2008, Lehman Brothers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and I lost the job I had spent 4 years working towards.
It didn’t come as a complete shock on that Monday morning. As we left the office on Friday evening we knew if another bank didn’t bail us out we’d fall. But Lehman Brothers was too big to fail right? The Federal Reserve would bail us out surely, knowing otherwise it would signal a crash. That’s what everyone the Friday before kept saying. That weekend on the Sunday evening I joined Andrew and his flat mates at his brothers house. A leisurely Sunday afternoon I can remember we were trying to play a board game when I received a text from my sister saying she was so sorry. We switched on the news to see that the Federal Reserve and no other bank wanted to bail us out and filing for bankruptcy was the only option. Rather deflated we headed home to wait to see what the morning brought.
It was just a week before Andrew’s 30th birthday and I can remember Andrew hugging me saying it would be ok, as we looked down on the many media crews who had descended around our Canary Wharf office. We watched on the tv screens all across the trade floor as colleagues left the offices with their possessions in boxes and were mobbed by the press. There was a decided lack of sympathy in the media for these workers carrying the contents of their desks. Evil, robbing bastards apparently was what we all were. Even the Minions film years later used the term “Bank of Evil – Formerly Lehman Brothers.” We were faceless individuals who had all been tarred with the same brush. We had all supposedly knowingly taken down the mortgage industry and set off a financial crash. Many of these employees though were just hard working individuals who through no fault of their own had just lost their job. And for Andrew and I we had both lost our job on the same day.
An email that circulated in August this year, calling for a 10 year reunion party never made it into my inbox – maybe you needed to have been employed for more than a week to get an invite. The email said “one of the best thing about Lehman was the people,” and that is something I whole heartedly agree with. During the year I worked at Lehman and 8 weeks I ended up back there for I met some of the most brilliant people I ever have. For starters it was where I met my husband! But him aside I have many colleagues who become great friends and still are.
On the 15th September 2008 I felt like my career had ended before it even started. I felt angry that I could have worked so hard, got the degree I needed and offered the job I wanted and still it hadn’t worked out. I felt like giving up. Instead the next day when I walked back into the office and sat on a practically empty trade floor I logged onto my computer and started perfecting my cv, calling companies and attempting to fight my way back up. Our area was not bought out by another bank and so we were required to help PWC with the administration of finding any money left for all the creditors. I could have stayed for a lot longer with PWC, in fact I know some of our old team still were working on picking apart the pieces of the company just a few years ago, and may still be there now. I made a decision though that I didn’t want to start my career off staying in such a negative environment. I applied to all the other banks graduate schemes and was told I’d have to wait till the following year. Undeterred I went on to apply for experienced roles hoping my year in industry would be enough experience. I landed a role in a completely different area in a different bank. Once there I managed to move internally and within a year I was doing pretty much exactly the same role as I had been due to do. I went on to be promoted as one of the youngest assistant Vice Presidents the bank I worked in had ever had. I don’t say that to brag but to show that it wasn’t the end that day. It was merely a turning point down a different road.
10 years on I can look back focusing on the irony that a company could operate for 158 years and I only got to see out the last week. I can be thankful for the friends I met, the hard working values the company had instilled in me and the opportunities one door shutting gave me when I was able to open others. For many others though, 10 years on, it is something that cannot be simply shrugged off. 10 years on from the financial crash many are still picking up the pieces.
Working for Lehman Brothers when it went bankrupt means I am part of history I would prefer not to be a part of. I don’t want to be on the side people perceive as evil but it isn’t always possible to change people’s perceptions. From the time I spent at Lehman Brothers I will take away the memories of friends, colleagues and learning never to feel too comfortable in a job.