Monday, September 15, 2008

The face of bankruptcy

The media seem to be getting a tremendous kick out of Lehman’s downfall. At least that’s the impression one gets, judging from the minute-by-minute reports on “Lehman’s dying hours”… the close-up on worried bankers talking frantically on their cellphones about subjects “like, counterparty risk”… the hordes of cameramen waiting voraciously outside Lehman’s New York offices for a 30-second interview with any one of the fallen 25,000… or the insiders' view into Lehman’s …urinals(!) where staff conversations included questions as intimate as "how you holding up?"

As if bankers are not exactly real people... not like those poor workers at steel plants or car factories, who did the right thing, worked hard, learnt their skill, only to see themselves jobless, homeless and helpless a couple of decades later. As if these Lehmans guys are about to show their finger to the world, take out their eight-digit bank savings and fly to the Bahamas to dedicate themselves to a life of golf.

Well.. some might do. Dick Fuld for example, who will likely go down in history as greedy, and disgraced. Or, rather, greedy, loaded and disgraced—spending his latter years trying to soothe the wound to his pride by cruising between his numerous luxury properties.

But that’s only part of the story. A tiny bit. Most of the remaining 24,999 laid off employees are very real people. A West African woman, of immigrant parents, who aced high-school, sailed through her college degrees, served the US government to “pay her dues” to the country that adopted her, and then moved to Lehman in the hope of making enough money to support (alone) her family. A jovial and energetic sales woman who only two weeks ago was asking me for travel tips for her (forthcoming?) honeymoon. A skillful economic analyst, who spent years making a name in the industry and who, ironically, left Merrill Lynch a couple of months back to join Lehman Brothers (most likely for—what seemed to be—a better package!).

These are some of my counterparts, guys… real people.. did the right thing.. hardworking, talented, curious.. with kids, husbands, wives and mortgages to keep up with.. and it’s gutting to wake up in the morning and see your inbox full of emails asking you to remember them if any job, anything, anywhere, comes up.

Hank & co. did the right thing, as I’ve been arguing all along.
But New York is mourning tonight.

1 comment:

Joseph said...

yes. my heart bleeds for them. only because now they have to work for bob diamante and spend further years in the investment banking cesspit. they are free. celebrate. feel happy for them.