I was an associate at Lehman Brothers. Then I had to wash my own shirts

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For a brief few months I was living the dream. After finishing my MBA I was an associate at Lehman Brothers in London. I was a single man, in a fancy flat (yes, I signed a year-long lease), with people washing and ironing my shirts for me.

Little did I know that my little bubble was about to burst.

There is an adage in banking: "An optimist is a banker who irons five shirts on a Sunday evening." It's a kind of stale joke, but in my case it's proven sadly true. The lifestyle I thought I'd secured with my $90k MBA and my successful summer internship has been swept from beneath my feet. No job in finance is safe.

Up until the moment Lehman fired all its first year associates (we were some of the first), I'd congratulated myself on my wise decisions.

I did a 10 week internship at LEH in summer 2007. I started on the securitized product desk and then moved to the rates trading desk. The financial crisis was just starting, and the senior trader on the securitized products desk would barely look me in the eye - unless he urgently wanted me to fetch him a coffee or a sandwich. I bonded better with the senior trader on the rates trading desk - I never asked a stupid question or mixed up his lunch order and he gave me a decent evaluation. Even so, it was securitized products that gave me an offer.

In my wisdom I turned down the offer from securitization and went for Lehman's generalist program instead. I spent most of this year congratulating myself on my excellent foresight: if I'd gone to securitized finance my job would've disappeared already. As a generalist, I figured I was safe. I was wrong.

I wasn't the only one. Throughout my brief stint at Lehman, all the senior managers kept telling me how lucky I was. There was never a better time to join the industry. Us business school guys were a great and cheap resource who were especially valuable in tough times. We'd never get touched. Etc.

But when the stuff hit the fan, we were first on the firing line. Even though we'd only just arrived. Only just signed the leases on our expensive accommodation. Only just got a taste for laundry services.

So here I am, wondering how I will afford to live here. Washing my own shirts. I don't wear quite so many these days. I've acquired a whole new level of knowledge about which detergent works best with my tap water, but I won't share that with you here. I'm too busy looking for a new job to pay the bills. For the moment, I'd just like to share another nugget of wisdom with anyone who thinks they've made it: 'When you can't see the light, don't get too arrogant. The train might be right behind you.'

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Stefano Valerio is the pseudonym of a former Lehman Brothers associate 

This article was first published on eFinancialCareers on November 4th 2008


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