From Wall Street to Spartan Race – how financial crisis changed lives

(SPARTAN HANDOUT) – Joe De Sena was in his Vermont office with about half a dozen of equity and derivatives traders he employed when the markets started melting after the Lehman Brothers collapse.

“I thought, you know what, I’m done,” he told Reuters, looking back from a ten-year perspective. “I don’t want that stress and that headache anymore.”

He quit Wall Street and started working on turning his hobby of organizing races into a full-time endeavor. Now his Death Race and Spartan Race are among the biggest and best-known series of obstacle races in the world. De Sena said he has never looked back.

“Even when you’re having a tough day, it feels good,” De Sena says. “Because you’re getting people to say, ‘Hey, thank you, I stopped drinking. Hey, thank you, I lost a bunch of weight. Hey, thank you, I’m back with my husband or my wife.’ So, it feels a lot better than the days of Lehman collapsing.”

Lynn Gray knows exactly how that feels. On the day when Lehman Brothers’ collapsed, she worked as its real estate group’s global chief administrative officer. She came to the office at 6 a.m.

Gray, who spent more than 11 years working at the company, went back to Lehman headquarters in Midtown Manhattan.

“There was a coffee guy that used to pick up coffee from. And there were two other women standing there. I didn’t know them. We looked at each other, and we all broke down crying because we were so heartbroken. Nobody expected that. You know, Bear Stearns was saved. Nobody expected that Lehman would not be saved.”

After months of exploring options, Gray started a recruiting company, Campus Scout, to help companies hire college graduates. Ten years later, she still feels nostalgic about her years at Lehman, but said the events that forced her to change her life were a blessing in disguise.

“It was just a wonderful place to work,” Gray said. “some of my clients are ex-Lehman people, my team are ex-Lehman people. And the interesting thing is, we have a very active women’s network. We have a LinkedIn group with over 1,000 members. We get together periodically, and every time we get together, people always say, ‘I like my job, but it’s not Lehman’.”

When the financial crisis begun, Alex Shvarts ran Pulse 87 Radio and Mega Media Group (MMG). Suddenly, budgets shut down, funding dried up, and no one was buying ads. He had to file for bankruptcy.

“I went from, you know, having a successful business to, basically having nothing, because the economy tanked.” Shvarts said. “What do you do? You’re 40 and, you’ve lived life in a certain way, and you have experiences, and you have knowledge, but you can’t apply it anywhere,” he added.

“And I had to start over.”

Shvarts now helps run FundKite, a fast-growing company that lends money to small businesses that have difficulty securing loans from traditional banks. He estimates FundKite is now in the top 50 founders in the country in the space.

Shvarts said the financial crisis forced him to reinvent himself.

“It was a blessing,” Shvarts said. “Blessing now, when you look back. But back then, when you had a family to feed… It wasn’t so easy for a while.”

The bankruptcy filing by one of the biggest U.S. investment banks, Lehman Brothers, on September 15, 2008, started an avalanche of events in the financial markets that led to the biggest financial crisis in recent history, starting with a 4.5 percent drop, or 500 points, in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

Associated Links

  • Lehman Bros
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  • FundKite
  • Joe De Sena
  • Lehman Brothers

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