Surviving Bankruptcy: To The Doors of Death & Back in A Day

Yesterday we struggled to stay afloat a sinking ship in the bloody seas of the Wall Street crisis. Despite our superior-than-average swimming skills, we did not have much hope for survival. Any internal gossip indicating that an acquisition deal might be done had the caveat ‘perhaps,’ a word that did not have much standing given that Lehman Brothers had fallen down on every hope and promise in the last few days. It was no consolation when a colleague called us last evening, upset that the head of M&A at Lehman was out drinking rather than trying to get the Barclays deal done.

There is irony in that as elevated as my mood was at the outset of 2007 when Lehman’s stock price was at an all time high, today I was faced with the reality that our family would be an integral part of history’s biggest bankruptcy. What a remarkable story to pass down to our future generations. Yay! Papa’s famous, came my ten year old’s childlike enthusiasm. She immediately cocked her head to the side and thought again, Wait, famous in a good way or a bad way?

We ran into a bunch of friends at the boulangerie this morning, after dropping the kids off at school. Although the condolence calls have been coming through in a steady stream over the last few days, it is much more awkward to face the dead man walking directly. Uneasiness interspersed the aroma of coffee as people greeted us with feeble smiles that said I feel for you but just do not want to bring anything up.

And then all morning while I tried to occupy myself with my core work of encouraging the world to go green, my inner voices reiterated the same questions: Will Barclays and Lehman reach a deal or not? Will the rest of Lehman Brothers go into bankruptcy tomorrow morning? When should we begin pounding the streets for a job?

Charlie Gasparino, an on-air editor at CNBC stated that working for a British bank with an entirely different culture would be the second worst nightmare for a Lehman employee, the worst being outright unemployment. Call me unadventurous but I am okay with the prospect of a paycheck from London. Perhaps because as an Indian I can say that working for the Brits is a known entity. But I hardly think that Lehman employees would scoff at the chance to get their hands on an entirely new deal book.

The word from the trading floor late morning today was that Bob Diamond, the chief executive of Barclays and Bart McDade, the president of Lehman Brothers were walking floor to floor at Lehman’s offices in New York to announce the acquisition deal: Barclays will buy the U.S. capital-markets businesses of Lehman and as many as 9,000 Lehman employees will find jobs with the U.K. bank. This is minus the bad assets that will be left with the holding company to level to be liquidated according to the bankruptcy court’s instructions.

Breathing room! Can things change in just a day? Have Barclays and I both gotten what we wanted in the first place?

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