'I couldn't care less about former Lehman employees'

Lehman Brothers Building

The subject of the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers can get emotional. Here's something written in by a markets professional soon after the fall.

Here's something sent in by one of our readers:

'Am I the only one sick to death hearing about all these former Lehman Brothers staff who have had to change their lives because of the bankruptcy of the firm ?

OK, so some former employees are now butchers, bakers, mail men, waiters and exotic dancers, but that's what most normal people do for a living in any case. Why should we get upset if some ex-Lehmaners now do the same kind of work as the rest of us ? These people should thank their lucky stars that they were at least able to enjoy some moments basking in the sun, picking up all those decent bonuses over the years.

Working in the investment banking industry is a risky business. Everyone knows that (even me). Staff at many firms have lost their jobs over the decades through mergers or takeovers. It's the way it is. Many have found that they have had to leave the industry to earn a living, after being pushed out and thrown to one side. It comes with the territory. And Lehman wasn't the first (and probably won't be the last) investment bank to file for Chapter 11 - many will remember Drexel Burnham Lambert's bankruptcy in the 1990s too.

Why, then, is there all this focus on Lehman staff (when the majority got rehired by either Barclays or Nomura in any case) ? Are these people any more deserving than the tens of thousands of financial markets employees who lost their jobs because of Lehman's failure ? And I'm not talking about those who worked at firm's like Merrill Lynch or AIG, or UBS, where reckless traders were allowed to bet the ranch and lost. But there were many industry professionals at firms like Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse, firms which came out of the subprime mess relatively unscathed, yet still had to downsize because the environment had changed in the post-Lehman world.

And what about all those people, especially in the US, who used to be butchers, bakers, waiters and exotic dancers, who lost their jobs when the Lehman contagion spread to Main Street ? Aren't they more deserving of our regard than a few former Lehman bankers ? Sure, many will say that Lehman should never have been allowed to fail, but surely, the firm put itself in that position in the first place. In the end, it wasn't short-sellers, or counterparties that were to blame for Lehman's bankruptcy (no matter what senior Lehman executives will have you believe). It was poor risk management and executive arrogance that led to the demise of this firm.

And OK, no-one likes to hear that people have fallen on (relatively) hard times, but let's get things into perspective. Those Lehman people who lost their jobs are no martyrs. They are just the latest in the long line of individuals who have paid the price in an industry where greed often gets the better of sound judgement, and executive decisions are made in ivory towers by out-of-touch management. And it's going to happen again'.

image: © Lisamarie Babik

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