Former Bankers Pursue Latent Creative Passions

January 06, 2009 07:28 AM
by Shannon Firth
Amid massive layoffs, financial professionals are finding themselves chasing deferred dreams, becoming teachers, ranchers and even comedians.

Wall Street’s Unemployed Make Career Changes

What happens when more than 76,000 finance employees lose their jobs? They find new ones, though perhaps not the jobs you might expect. Former bankers, freed from their “golden handcuffs,” are following their true passions: cooking, teaching, writing and even comedy.
Michael Terry was an executive director at Morgan Stanley who performed in comedy shows at night. When the company announced layoffs last February. Terry decided his severance package would give him the security he needed to work at becoming a comedian full time. Nearly a year after leaving Morgan Stanley, Terry has been featured in two skits for the Onion News Network and secured a spot for his sketch group, Party Central USA, at the Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival. 

Harry B. Weiner, a partner at On-Ramps, a recruiting and consulting firm targeting financial professionals, told The New York Times that he believes the economic atmosphere is conducive to taking risks and seeking out new opportunities. “[E]specially when you have a résumé that says ‘banking’ and no banks are hiring,” Weiner said.

Jessica Walter lost her job as vice president of credit strategy for Bear Stearns. She took her desire to teach kids to cook and founded Cupcake Kids, a cooking school that hosts cooking classes and children’s birthday parties. Jeff Salmon, a former investor at Bank of New York Mellon, didn’t wait to be let go. He felt so anxious working in a sector with so little security that he simply quit. Salmon and his wife, Olga, opened a Great Clips franchise in Mercerville, N.J. He told the International Herald Tribune, "It's refreshing to not have to worry about whether I am going to have a job next week."

Jeanne Branthover, managing director of Boyden Global Executive Search in New York, said she’s noticed more bankers opening their own business, such as retail stores and even ranches. Branthover also noted that bankers are not only moving out of their careers but out of the country as well, heading to Europe, Russia and Dubai.

Richard Florida, director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto and author of “Who’s Your City?” told The New York Times that he sees the country’s financial problems as a needed catalyst. “The economic downturn is going to free up top talent to do other things that are going to change the metabolism of cities like New York in a very good way,” Florida said.

Related Topics: Will Wall Street move to China?; Bankers migrate to church

According to a BBC article published in May, more bankers are expected to leave the country to work in Asian markets. Dealogic, an IT firm dedicated to the banking industry, noted that in Asia, with the exception of Japan, private equity acquisitions increased by 15 percent in the first quarter of 2008. In most other parts of the world, acquisitions declined.

In September, it was noted that increasing numbers of New York financiers sought solace from a higher power. Priests and rabbis both noticed a rise in the number of congregants in temples and churches dressed in business attire. Many reasoned that those seeking spiritual comfort were likely affected by the Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy and Merrill Lynch’s takeover by Bank of America.

Opinion & Analysis: Evaluating the financial crisis

From more affordable artwork to fewer hassles making reservations at top restaurants, it seems New Yorkers would have much to gain if all of the city’s bankers were to leave. Vanity Fair writer Duff McDonald quips, “New Yorkers just might, although it’s unlikely, find themselves with a world in which $250 bottle service is once again considered an absurdity.” But according to the New York State Comptroller, the city could lose up to 40,000 finance jobs, which translates to $3.5 billion in lost tax revenue by March 2010.

Hristo Mishkov, 32, also called Brother Nikanor, a former Nasdaq trader for a Bulgarian firm, left finance five years ago to become a monk. Mishkov is blunt in his evaluation of the financial crisis: “It is right to see people who consume more than they deserve shattered by a financial crisis from time to time, to suffer so that they can become more reasonable.”

Reference: Career transitions


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