Fallout: The Financial Crisis

Bear Stearns employees find their way

Amy Scott Mar 13, 2009
Fallout: The Financial Crisis

Bear Stearns employees find their way

Amy Scott Mar 13, 2009


Kai Ryssdal: You remember late last summer when it seemed like every weekend there was some huge government intervention designed to save the global economy from disaster? OK, now think back a little bit farther to last spring, a year ago this weekend. The first of those Sunday night rescues was the bailout of a bank called Bear Stearns. Thanks to $29 billion from the Fed, Bear was saved from complete collapse. But for the 14,000 people who worked there, things changed literally overnight. Marketplace’s Amy Scott caught up with some of them to find out what they’re doing one year on.

Amy Scott: The banks did the deal on a Sunday night. The next day was St. Patrick’s Day. Francie Heller remembers looking down from her third floor office at the spectacle below.

Francie Heller: There were some Scottish men in skirts practicing their bagpipes. And there was the CNBC cameras and people wearing their red gloves from the cold…There were people there handing out $2 bills. And there were also people there handing out cards, for looking into do you need to sell your apartment, they were real estate agents. So it was a real scene. It was like a real circus outside my window, all day long.

For the next few months, Heller kept coming to the office. She worked with pensions, endowments, and foundations at Bear. But there was nothing to do.

Heller: JP Morgan had a bunch of meetings, and we all listened. And there were people walking around noting office numbers and writing down, putting tickets on your computers, and so we had no idea what was going to happen when.

So, like many of her colleagues Heller used the time, and the office resources, to find a job. She eventually found work with a hedge fund manager. She’s still there. Like so many at Bear Stearns, Heller didn’t just lose her job. A big chunk of her pay was in stock. Ultimately shareholders got $10 a share in the takeover. The stock had been trading at $70 just a week before the deal.

Aviral Rai worked in the corporate strategy division at Bear Stearns. He’s now head of investment banking at a small firm called Pali Capital. He lost millions of dollars.

Aviral Rai: It still hurts to see that go. It sets you back, but you know, it’s certainly not devastation, which I’m sure that some other people went through who had spent longer time there.

Rai and Heller were lucky enough to find jobs before the whole industry crumbled. Justin Brannan had been at Bear Stearns for about a year and half. He had a lower-level job in the hedge fund unit.

Justin Brannan: We supported all those guys that kind of brought the house down.

After the house fell, he got by for a while making $7 an hour as a stockbroker trainee. But when that ended recently, he faced a lot more competition for work.

Brannan: It’s just scorched earth out there. You’re up against people that are way more qualified. And rightfully, you know, rightfully so. I mean, I hope they get the jobs that they deserve.

Brannan just found a job off Wall Street. He’ll be raising money for a nonprofit humanitarian group.

Fellow Bear alum Delilah Rothenberg has taken a similar path. She spends a lot of her new-found free time volunteering. She helped organize this recent benefit for a Rwandan beauty school

Delilah Rothenberg: Good evening, everyone.

Rothenberg worked with institutional investors at Bear Stearns. She pays the bills now doing financial consulting. She’d never really pictured a long career on Wall Street. She got into finance to do economic development in Africa. But she got comfortable at Bear.

Rothenberg: It was almost too great to leave, so maybe it was a mixed blessing that my opportunities there ended. Otherwise, I’d never continue on with life.

Everyone I talked to misses Bear Stearns. They talk about the bank’s demise almost like a death. A year later some are angry, at the people who made the bad decisions. But mostly they’re still just kind of stunned. The other day Francie Heller says she was watching the sunset.

Heller: And there was this beautiful sun and it just seemed to sink a little and then boom it was gone. And I think that was the way it felt at Bear then. It was just such a surprise and so unexpected that it was just gone.

When the sun set so abruptly on Bear Stearns, Heller says it felt like the end. Now she realizes it was just the beginning.

In New York, I’m Amy Scott for Marketplace.

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