At Lehman, a stunning loss leads to serious thought
From the Iranian coffee cart guy to the Italian graduate student, almost everyone who walked past Lehman Brothers’ headquarters on a windy Wednesday morning in New York seemed to stop and mull its future.
Philipp Steiner, a graduate student in entrepreneurship from Italy, walked up to Lehman’s offices at 50th St. and 7th Ave after reading news about the investment bank’s $3.93 billion quarterly loss on the famous news ticker a few blocks south in Times Square. There’s never such big news in Italy, he said. Still, he didn’t think Lehman bankers had too much to worry about, despite its troubles.
“I would see that as a good experience, and then move on to another job,” Steiner said.
“Can you believe the shares are now around $7?” he asked, as he handed the Lehman employee his coffee. Seven cups would buy roughly one share of stock; last November, it would have taken 68 cups.
“It sucks,” the employee shot back, shaking his head as he retreated into the building.
Lehman reported its record loss on Wednesday, but sought to quell investors’ worries with plans to sell a majority stake in its asset management unit and spin off commercial real estate holdings.
But within the bank’s working ranks, its troubles have rocked the faith of more than just its old timers.
“This is my first day at Lehman, I literally just signed my papers,” said one worried-looking man, as he smoked a cigarette.
And for a trader who’d joined Lehman from Bear Stearns just three months ago, it could not have been worse timing.
“Who would have known everything would collapse?” he said.
Some employees were steeling themselves for even worse news to come. Some were preparing to move on to new employers.
“It is sad for anybody,” the coffee vendor said. “They just bought houses for a couple million dollars and now they are going to lose their jobs. How are they going to manage?”
“Things are pretty bad … there’s not much left to say,” said a Lehman employee who works for its capital markets unit. He said that between his anxious family and Lehman’s battered stock, he planned to decide this week whether to keep working for the 158-year-old company.
Hany Besha, who has run another coffee cart on the block for nearly 10 years, is already getting hit by Lehman’s troubles. Business is down 50 percent, he said.
“They are here today and gone tomorrow,” he said. “One of my customers told me, ‘I don’t know if I will see you tomorrow or not. If I don’t, have a good life.’”