20th February 2012: Wall Street Afterlives

William D. Cohan‘s reportage is insightful about Wall Street culture and transactions. Cohan’s latest Financial Times piece fuses elegaic reflections on his career and interviews with former Masters of the Universe. On his personal experience:

I know these feelings of dislocation, shame and inadequacy intimately. After a 17-year career on Wall Street – where I rose to be head of the highly regarded media and telecoms M&A business at JPMorgan Chase before being slowly stripped of my responsibilities after September 11 – the bank dismissed me in January 2004 as part of an ongoing “reduction in force”. Despite two graduate degrees from an Ivy League university and years of exponentially increasing remuneration, I was left in the unenviable position of caring for a wife and two small children with no hope of finding anything like the work I had been doing at the pay I had been receiving. In the months after my firing, nasty nightmares often startled me awake. Out of desperation and a lingering desire to fulfil my original dream to be a journalist, I began writing my first book – The Last Tycoons: The Secret History of Lazard Frères & Co.

 

Cohan cites Bloomberg data that 200,000 Wall Street people lost their jobs in 2011. The majority were in back-office positions (that have been outsourced), and 40,000 were in trading and transaction roles. Cohan profiles former managing directors who joined boutique firms; IPO specialists who pursued their religious faith; and investment bankers who fell from grace. Many of Cohan’s interviewees refused to go on the record with comments for fear of damaging their job prospects.

 

Cohan’s article is a powerful corrective to the image of Wall Street that MBA presentations and trading books portray.