The Lehman Brothers Experience…

I originally published this article on my personal blog “Just another stream of random bits…”, back in September 2008, a few days after the now famous Bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers. Today being the 7th anniversary of the bankruptcy, I was thinking about how great it was to work for Lehman, and how sad it still is today to have lost an American company started in 1850, and I thought I would share this article once again. The original text of my 2008 article is below:

The Lehman Brothers Experience…

To my friends and family,

As you all know, I work for Lehman Brothers. And I’m pretty sure by now, you all have heard that the company filled for Bankruptcy earlier this week.

I have worked at Lehman for my entire professional career. Starting as a lowly summer intern in June 1998. Working my way up to a part-time hourly employee during my undergraduate studies at Polytechnic University, starting in May 1999. And finally being hired as a full time employee in May 2001. I have been employed at Lehman uninterrupted since May 1999.

Lehman has been more than a place where I go to work everyday. It is a place were I have made many friends on the professional level, and some of those relationships have grown beyond the office. My three managers I have had since I started working at Lehman all attended Paula and my wedding back in 2005, and I have attended their weddings, Christmas parties at their homes, and even Chinese New Year celebrations.

I knew it would always be hard to finally say goodbye when the time came for me to leave this chapter of my life behind. At this point, it looks like me and along with probably a good 95% of the rest of the firms employees will be forced to leave before most of us were ready to.

What’s worse is that there are many people who have spend the bulk of their professional careers at Lehman and as they are approaching retirement, they are in bad shape and I ask each of you to keep them in your prays. Lehman was the last bank on Wall Street to have a pension plan, which most of the long time employees are depending on for a significant portion of their retirement incomes. I know many individuals from my department who have been affected in this way. As of today, we still do not know what will happen with the pensions, so please let’s all hope and pray for the best. Us, younger employees will be ok, but those old-timers will really be feeling the pain regarding this issue in particular!

The Lehman Brothers culture, good or bad, was one of Pride and Family. There was a sense that we are all in this thing together and that we are all contributing to making the firm a direct competitor to the likes of Goldman Sachs. When I first started at Lehman, people told me, “Why are you joining that company!” “Come on Rob, you can do better than Lehman.” In fact no one besides myself, from my graduating class from Poly joined Lehman (although some did have offers and some were even interns along with me), They all thought they could do better.

The funny thing was, they all changed their tune after a few short months. Most of them lost their jobs do to the slowing economy and 9-11. Lehman although displaced from it’s global headquarters (World Financial Center – Tower 3 / The American Express Tower) which was heavily damaged during the terrorist attacks, was committed to rebuilding a strong firm than ever. They soon succeeded; we purchased a new Headquarters in midtown Manhattan, just north of Times Square, 745 7th Ave. We got a new building in Jersey City to replace our outdated and overcrowded 101 Hudson IT and Operations Jersey City building. We began expanding both domestically and internationally. Every week we would receive multiple internal communications on new acquisitions and deals being made across the global. They started rebranding the company, and we went from logos that were just gold letter of the words “Lehman Brothers” on a plain and solid dark green back drop to “Lehman Brothers – Where Vision Gets Built…” flashing on full color, jumbo screens on the sides of the new 745 building in Times Square. Each of our regional headquarters in both London and Tokyo were also being upgraded. A few short years after 9-11 which everyone predicted would be the end for Lehman, we purchased the Asset Manager Neuberger Berman. This marked a turning point in Lehman’s history. We started to risk among the ranks of the Wall Street Power Houses, and instead of being comparing to companies like Bear Stearns, we were being compared up against Goldman and Morgan Stanley.

When I would visit Paula up at Syracuse University when she was studying for her MBA, her classmates would approach me asking how is it to work at Lehman. That is the company they want to work for. Could I give them any tips on how to get their resume in front of the right people to be hired by the firm. And it wasn’t limited to Syracuse and a bunch of young and hungry MBA students. Everywhere I went, when someone heard I worked for Lehman, they wanted to speak with me about the company and if I would mind taking a look at their resume.

I was so proud to work for Lehman. In just a couple of years, it went from a company of only 7000 employees worldwide to over 25,000. It went from the company where people told me is run as far away from as possible, to the company where everyone wanted to work for.

Lehman was not a 9 to 5 shop, most managers, especially in the IT side, supported flex time and result oriented management. Meaning they didn’t care if you worked from home, or came in an hour late so long as the deliverables were completed ahead of schedule and with high production quality. Of course, as my wife Paula can tell you, this also means, you are on call 24 by 7. You not only carry a company Blackberry, but a pager as well. They have no problem calling up all the hotels in Las Vegas to find you and get you working on vacation. Trust me, it actually happened to me. But it all balanced out for the most part…

Lehman was known for treating their people right. Salaries were definitely comparable to the rest of the industry. Bonuses were great. Year End Parties were fun with Town Cars for each employee to go home in. The flexibility to work from home when needed was amazing and will truly be missed. Departments so long as they were “successful” were given many perks. My department for example always had up to date Computers and dual 19in flat panel monitors for just about everyone. Office Supplies were readily available in draws in front of the department admins. Free lunches at all large or long meetings. And we even went on a boat trip on a chartered NY Waterway Ferry with free beer and wine last year as a “team building” trip for the entire department. Training classes both technical and soft skills were made available to ALL employees freely. These classes would cost anywhere between $1500-3000 for a single day course to $5000-7000 for a five day training class. You potentially could have taken as many of these courses as you wanted to, so long as your direct manager approved. Being a manager myself, I have never seen an employee abuse the privilege and I always approved all request for these courses. If you could find a PC that wasn’t in use, in most cases the company and your managers would allow you to take it one along with Flat Panel Monitors to help with night support and working from home!

As you can see, it was an easy place to fall in love with, in terms of a place of business. Which is why there are so many employees who are having such a hard time saying good bye. I’m one of those employees. What has happened to Lehman over the past year has taken a toll on me in so many different dimensions. Financially (the obvious one), emotionally, mentally, and physically. Over the past two years, I have been working extremely hard on “self betterment.” I have been meditating, attempting to resolve my stresses through open communications and relaxation, listening to soothing New Age music, dieting, exercising, resolving my medical issues such as my Ulcerative Colitis, etc…

I feel that I have taken many steps in this process, but now with the stress and due to the “unknown” with the Lehman situation I definitely feel like I have take a few steps back.

I am extremely saddened by the down fall of Lehman. I feel like it is the end of an era. I have given Lehman so much, but they have also given back to me so much, in a world that depends upon money. I can’t imaging a world without Lehman. I did not know if I would be at Lehman for my entire career and in fact, I felt that most probably I would not be. However, I thought, I might eventually return to Lehman as so many employees who have worked for the company do, and possibly retire there. It literally brings tears to my eyes to think that this is no long an option. To think about walking by 745 7th ave, and reminiscing about all the meetings and presentations I gave there to Managing Directors for the Trader Portal project. To remember the feeling of pride as I walked through the doors of the building of my company; a company that was 30-33% owned by the employees.

Thank You for your time in reading this,

Robert Ilardi (Sept. 2008)
Vice President
Enterprise Account Management
Lehman Brothers, Inc.
70 Hudson St., 9th Floor
Jersey City, NJ 07302

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