Following on the Lehman thread (one year anniversary and all), here is Andy Kessler writing in Forbes:
Part of the charm of Wall Street, and what scares most reasonable people away, is that it is as close to a meritocracy as exists on this earth. It’s dog eat dog. It’s sink or swim. You do a trade and it makes money, then you’re a hero (for a moment anyway) and deserve a bonus. You bring in a deal, you get paid. You lasso more clients’ assets under your firm’s roof, you’re a hitter. I once discovered some good news on the stocks I followed before the rest of the Street, and mentioned it to the sales force at a morning meeting and moved markets in New York, Tokyo and London. I had the head of global equities pat my head on the elevator ride up the next morning. Pat my head! I was told he never does that.
The flip side, of course, is what makes Wall Street so dangerous. You lose money for the firm and you’re a heel. Do it again and you don’t get paid that year. Do it a third time and you’re out of a job. Just like that. Gone. I’ve seen it happen to friends and acquaintances at just about every firm up and down Wall Street. There is no tenure on Wall Street, no job security, no long-term guarantees. Ten- and 20-year careers end in a flash. Happens all the time, and everybody who works in the business knows this.
…But the crude reality is that Lehman Brothers is a classic Wall Street story. Inside and outside, it was a meritocracy. They wanted to one up on Goldman Sachs, generate as good a return on equity and earnings growth so they could win the meritocracy game and get paid in spades. How dare Bear Stearns’ CEO make more than ours! Let’s lever this sucker up with mortgage-backeds and create a trillion-dollar balance sheet. If not us, who? And by the way, very few people at Lehman really understood how upper management was playing this meritocracy game with the rest of Wall Street with the rank and files’ careers.
Read the full article here