'There was nothing special about our Firm' - Letter from a Lehman staffer

Todays Special - Lehman Brothers

Here's something sent in by a former Lehman Brothers employee:

'Let me start by saying that I'm not one of those guys who goes in for that idealistic nonsense. I remember reading an article penned by someone who lost their job when Bear Stearns failed, and it was all about how the firm was special, that the culture was unique and that they felt that they had lost 'family' when the jig was up. Frankly, I think that's baloney. Lehman Brothers wasn't my 'family', and, contrary to what CEO Dick Fuld and many other deluded souls will tell you, there was nothing special about our firm. It was simply the same as any other Wall Street outfit - filled with bright, energetic people who got their kicks making things happen (and making lots of money).

Although I worked at the firm for over 8 years, I knew that, if push came to shove, I was expendable. I was under no illusion that my firm was any different to any other - employees got paid out in the good times, and were in fear for their jobs when the going got tough. In truth, I enjoyed my time there, and it suited me to stay. If it got to the point where I felt that I should move on, I would have done so in a heartbeat. I'm now at Barclays Capital (for how long, who knows), but while I'm here, I'll give it my best shot. Sure, I've lost a few work colleagues who I used to like dealing with, and my Lehman stock (which made up much of my net worth) is worthless. It hurt, but I'll get over it. I have no choice.

But there is one point about Lehman that I would like to make. There's been a lot of talk about how we were singled out and allowed to fail (Bear Stearns and AIG were rescued, Merrill Lynch was taken over, and Goldman and Morgan Stanley were given the protection of bank holding company status). There has even been talk of a conspiracy against Lehman for having the audacity of going up against the big guys, and almost pulling it off. Well, I don't subscribe to all that stuff. Sure, they'll be many who will shed no tears at Lehman's passing, but I don't believe that we are the victims of some nefarious plot. We were simply the victims of circumstance and poor timing.

When the Fed used $30bn of taxpayers money in March 2008 to enable Jamie Dimon to cherry-pick the Bear Stearns businesses he wanted to keep, the outcry was immediate. There was no way that, politically, another institution could be bailed out (especially with a Presidential Election in the offing). So, when our turn came 6 months later, there was no appetite for a government-backed rescue. Because of the lack of other buyers, we were simply allowed to fail. But Lehman's demise triggered a major financial markets crisis (one that no-one foresaw), and the US government was forced to act anyway. It was, however, too late for Lehman and the thousands of staff who lost their jobs.

So, when we look at the history of Lehman Brothers from the perspective of a few years, it won't be all about greed and hubris, it will be about being in the wrong situation, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. It could have happened to anyone (and almost did)'.

READER COMMENTS:

1. 'There's been a lot of debate, hype, analysis and blame in the media on this subject from leading politicians, churchmen, journalists and so-called financial experts. It's good to see a balanced, logical and realistic view for a change - and refreshing that it isn't full of finger-pointing, jealousy and bitterness'.

2. 'I, too, am trying to understand why Lehman was allowed to fail'.

3. 'Finally someone with a realistic, mature and more optimistic outlook. Refreshing'.

4. 'The truth is that there were hundreds of opportunities to save Lehman, but Fuld was too proud to take them'.

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