Mistakes were made

New York City meets Munich

The Only Way Out is to be Through

June 23rd, 2011 · 1 Comment · Corporate Life

Go into the light.
I’ve worked on Wall Street for the past eleven years. I got in the door at Nomura initially because of experience with an obscure software platform. After leaving for five years to work in Bermuda, I came back to it because I knew people there and the pay would allow me to live in Manhattan.

I have no interest in quantitative finance or in derivatives. I am a technology guy. But I’ve done lots of work for a variety of different industries in my professional career. Figuring out problems is basically what I do. So why not do it for the people who pay the best?

What helped make the job rewarding was a great boss and working with good people. This took my mind off the fact that the work itself wasn’t particularly enjoyable, or even interesting to me. I could take occasional pleasure in making things for people that would eliminate labor or error-prone manual processes. For the hours and the paycheck, though, it wasn’t a bad gig.

When the subprime mortgage crisis hit in 2008, things got very ugly. Being the slowest lemming in the pack can keep you alive, and in this regard, Nomura got lucky. My firm’s exposure to subprime wasn’t enough to knock the place over like Lehman Brothers, but management panicked. There were huge layoffs, and Nomura ran a skeleton crew in New York. My boss, myself and two other colleagues remained, but almost all of the other fixed income technology staff, at least twenty people, were cut.

When the dust settled, executive management at Nomura realized that they weren’t as bad off as many of the competitors. With parts of Lehman up for sale, they suddenly decided that now was the time to expand. Nomura bought up parts of Lehman where they could, and hired ex-Lehman staff where they couldn’t buy. For the next year, Nomura was all about fast growth, and where we once had empty floors ready for sublet, we now had no space and needed to rent additional floors.

It was madness.

Things had to be whipped up in days instead of weeks. New business processes would go live before systems were even created. No one cared about doing things right, we needed to get stuff done fast. Just go back and fix it later, we were told.

After a year of this, with the workload increasing constantly, and a large part of that caused by poor executive planning, it became apparent to me that it was never going to get better. This was just how it was going to be from now on. Nomura was now as fast as all the other Wall Street lemmings.

I was also having a much harder time morally working in the industry. Almost all of investment finance is grifting. There’s little actual value created by these companies. I was becoming miserable being a whore for a company that I think does a great deal of social harm. The underlying motivation for everyone working at a place like Nomura, myself included, is greed. Nothing being done there is about long-term value, but instead short-term profit.

Life is too short to be so unhappy just for a paycheck. It was time to make a change.

Conny View definition in a new window and I decided to work for ourselves, making things we ourselves would like, and could be proud of. But there’s simply no way to live in New York City without a steady salary, so we would have to pack up and move to Munich, Germany. Our cost of living in Munich would be so much less, since we own property there and health care costs are a fraction of the U.S.

We decided to stick it out until I got paid my next bonus in May. I filled a small leftover vase with pennies, one for each workday I had left, and put it on my desk. It would remind me that I had an escape plan, and a future that I could be excited about ahead of me. Each day I would pull a penny out, knowing that when the vase was empty, I’d be free.

The day I gave notice it was like a weight was lifted and dark clouds parted. I genuinely felt badly for my immediate colleagues and my boss knowing my departure would add to their burden, but with my required four week notice, there would be enough time to transition.

Exit Interview

In some ways, I am glad the quality of the workplace got bad enough to finally push me out of my comfort zone and force me to take charge of my own life, instead of just earning a paycheck.

No more jobs for me or Conny. Our lives will be our work and our work will be our lives, and I have faith that if we do what we care about with passion and commitment, we can make a comfortable living. We will be partners in the truest sense of the word, and I couldn’t be any happier.

One Comment so far ↓

  • MadThad

    First, congratulations! This must be so exciting and a huge burden lifted off your shoulders.

    On the subject of investing, don’t you think that’s how it’s always been? I think technology has just made it easier and faster but the bottom line has always been for quick profit over measured gains hasn’t it?