Even 80 miles from New York City’s financial district, dozens of Yalies felt the aftershocks of investment bank Lehman Brothers’ decision to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy early Monday morning — especially those who received letters of intent from the company after stints as summer analysts.
Students all of a sudden find themselves with fewer career options and more uncertainty as three financial giants — all popular destinations for Wall Street-bound Yalies — faced dire turmoil this year. Lehman’s bankruptcy and Merrill Lynch’s behind-the-scenes sale to Bank of America this weekend, together with the failure of Bear Stearns in March, bring the effects of the ailing economy to Yale.
“The impact on students looking for jobs next year in financial services is quite real,” said a School of Management professor who was granted anonymity so he could analyze the sensitive situation freely. The professor said he has received e-mails from Yale graduates who have lost their jobs during the past two days.
Casey Gerald ’09, who interned for Lehman this summer, said while working at the investment bank for eight weeks, it was clear that employees were on edge.
“Things definitely weren’t good this summer, but I didn’t expect them to get this bad,” he said. But, Gerald said, interns were told they had no reason to worry.
“We were led to believe that by and large, the fundamentals of business were good and things would recover,” he said.
Another senior who worked in sales and trading at the New York office said while he valued the opportunity with Lehman, he saw bankruptcy looming on the horizon as early as this summer. The senior asked to remain anonymous so he could discuss his internship.
“I wasn’t necessarily angry or frustrated because finance is a high risk, high reward job,” he said. “People need to be cognizant of that.”
Still, some Elis who were extended job offers from Lehman — like Jay Pilkerton ’09 — said they simply “did not see this coming.”
Lehman annually extends offers to as many as 80 percent of their summer analysts, he said. But this year, rumors around the office suggested that only about 40 percent of summer analysts received the letters of intent that precede offers. The actual offers including salary, benefits and other packages, usually come in around this time of year, students said.
Retired Managing Director of JP Morgan Chase Tracy Williams ’79 said people had been talking about the precariousness of Lehman’s future as a “bulge bracket” — or top-tier — firm for a long time. There was a general belief on Wall Street, he said, that Lehman could weather the storm through resilient leadership and a pattern of overcoming past difficulties. That belief, though, is now being questions.
“Markets move too fast,” he said. “Faster than [Lehman could] put a plan in place.”
As the future of American markets remains uncertain, many students who had been planning on entering the finance industry are unsure of their next step. Williams said seniors will have to “play it by ear in the next few weeks.” After all, he said, Lehman’s parent company owns operating subsidiaries that did not file for bankruptcy, and while the future of these firms is also tenuous, the offices continue to function on a day-to-day basis. Plus, as the Wall Street Journal reported late Monday night, deals between Lehman and Barclays PLC may still be in the works.
One senior, who received a letter of intent after working as a summer analyst, said she has started looking for other job possibilities, even though she said Lehman may still extend some offers in coming weeks. She asked to remain anonymous because she is in the midst of her job search.
“At this point, given the volatility of the markets, it seems wise to pursue other job opportunities, perhaps even outside of the finance industry,” she said. “It’s a very tumultuous time right now, not just at Lehman but everywhere on Wall Street.”
“I can’t imagine that someone wants to stick around long-term,” Williams said. Still, he suggested that seniors should seek advice from Lehman as to what they should do about their outstanding offers, if those exist.
And with Lehman’s 25,000 current employees questioning their future, recent Yale graduates at Lehman have other worries on their minds.
Matthew Dennett ’08, a current investment banking analyst at the firm, said he has no control over what will happen next.
“I’m disappointed. I’m sad,” he said. “But I’m resigned to whatever my fate will be.”