Then & Now
CEO: Richard Fuld (above)
Cash on balance sheet: $3.3 billion
CEO: Bryan Marsal, (above)
Cash on balance sheet: $7 billion
It’s bankrupt. Its reputation is in tatters. And it has been forced from its plush headquarters building. Yet working for Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. — what remains of it — has become one of the hottest jobs on Wall Street.
That’s because Lehman, though a shadow of its former self after selling many of its businesses to Barclays PLC and Nomura Holdings Inc., retains a broad patchwork of assets. It has some $7 billion in cash and more than 1,400 private investments valued at $12.3 billion. Then there’s a thicket of about 500,000 derivative contracts with 4,000 trading partners worth some $24 billion.
So for now, Lehman is seen as a relatively secure home for throngs of finance professionals thrown out of work in recent months. It’s even become a place for former Lehman CEO Richard Fuld to informally hang his hat.
“We’re getting swamped with résumés,” says Bryan Marsal, a turnaround expert who is now Lehman’s chief executive officer. The inquiries, he says, are from people affiliated with marquee names such as Bank of America, Citigroup Inc., and Morgan Stanley.
“It’s just a tough, tough time, and there are a lot of good people out there looking for work.”
The wages are not great by past standards. But there are hidden benefits. It could take two years or more to wind down the firm. Such a timeline promises the kind of job security that’s a rarity on Wall Street today.
Charged with untangling the mess is Alvarez & Marsal, the New York-based restructuring firm where Mr. Marsal is a co-founder. With 150 full-time employees working on the case, its chief task is to sell off Lehman’s remaining assets and maximize recovery for creditors, which are owed more than $150 billion.
Mr. Marsal says the goal is to dissolve the firm in 18 to 24 months from now, though several restructuring experts say that’s an aggressive timetable.
Alvarez & Marsal got the gig in September after Lehman’s board appointed it to administer the bankrupt company’s estate. To carry out the mission, Alvarez & Marsal kept 130 Lehman employees on the firm’s payroll. It has also recruited back more than 200 former Lehman employees, and is still hiring staff to handle targeted areas such derivatives and real-estate holdings.
Behind the scenes is Mr. Fuld, the firm’s former chairman and chief executive, who was widely vilified when Lehman collapsed in mid-September. Though Mr. Fuld was removed from the payroll on Jan. 1 and relieved of his company-provided black Mercedes, Lehman has agreed to let him keep an office at the firm. He’s just around the corner from Mr. Marsal, who says he picks Mr. Fuld’s brain about Lehman’s business several times a week.
“We asked him to stay if he has nowhere better to go,” says Mr. Marsal. “He’s been very good about making himself available for questions about Lehman assets.”
Through a spokeswoman, Mr. Fuld declined to comment.
Lehman’s dismantling is an expensive process. Associated costs run about $30 million a month, excluding fees to lawyers and advisers on the case. Employees are paid a salary — with modest retention bonus added as “a kiss” says Mr. Marsal — to entice workers to stay at a place with a limited lifespan.
The assignment is a lucrative one for Alvarez & Marsal, which is charging Lehman hourly fees of $550 to $850 for its top executives working on the case, with rich incentive fees for the firm depending on its recovery for creditors.
Despite Lehman’s assured dissolution, executive recruiters say it isn’t surprising that the collapsed investment bank has become a desirable place to work.
“This is a well-paying job in one of the worst employment markets in history,” says Skiddy von Stade, founder of New York-based executive placement firm F.S. von Stade & Associates. “Through the disposition of Lehman’s assets, the employees will have a chance to demonstrate their strengths and skills for opportunities down the road — possibly with the very buyers of these securities and investments.”
Mr. Marsal says compensation is in line with similar jobs on Wall Street, yet far below what it was at Lehman. He and his team are “very, very careful” about the expenses of the firm, which he says are generally lean. “The excess of Lehman was the size of the salaries and the expectations of people with the bonus plan,” he says.
Gone are the pay and perks that came with being a top executive at pre-bankruptcy Lehman. Mr. Fuld and his management team sat on the 31st floor of Lehman’s former headquarters, a state-of-the-art steel-and-granite building in Times Square. Barclays bought that site and took it over, so now Lehman’s command center is a run-of-the-mill office on the 45th floor of the Time-Life building, which long served as Lehman overflow space.
Mr. Marsal and his team are making due without weekly deliveries of fresh flowers and warm chocolate-chip muffins on Fridays — perks enjoyed by the firm’s former brass. Gone too is the executive dining suite where a private chef prepared lunch for Lehman’s top executives. Instead, Mr. Marsal and his crew grab a bite in the cafeteria at Time Inc., which has granted access to the Lehman employees.
Henry Klein is part of Lehman’s new topsy-turvy reality. A nine-year Lehman veteran, he oversaw a portfolio of investments in India from the firm’s New York office. When Lehman failed, Mr. Klein was transferred to Barclays, but says he had little to do there. “I was at Barclays, but my assets were at Lehman.”
Mr. Klein left Barclays in mid-November, and then approached Alvarez & Marsal. Today, he’s back overseeing the very assets he says he managed at Lehman.
The 46-year-old Mr. Klein is currently focused on a small $36 million real-estate investment in Hyderabad, a large city in south central India. Lehman may continue to back the deal, but also may have to pull its funding. “It’s a difficult decision,” says Mr. Klein. “We don’t have tons of time.”
Luc Faucheux, 39, heads up the desk at the bankrupt entity that trades interest-rate swaps and other fixed-income derivatives. “I always wanted this job,” laughs the former Lehman staffer who says he had a related, but less senior role. “Be careful what you wish for, because you might just get it.”
“Let’s face it,” he adds. “Given the state of the world we’re in, the things I’m learning working on the largest bankruptcy in history are a set of skills that could be marketable for the foreseeable future.”
Rather than immediately sell assets into a depressed market, Alvarez & Marsal has opted to retain and manage a chunk of Lehman’s holdings.
Last month, Alvarez & Marsal decided to keep a 49% interest in Lehman’s money-management business, Neuberger Investment Management, selling the balance to Neuberger’s management. It made a similar move with Lehman Brothers Merchant Banking, the firm’s flagship private-equity business. The estate also has held on to more than 100 direct stakes in private companies. These include direct investments made alongside Lehman’s private-equity clients in large boom-era buyouts such as First Data Corp. and Texas utility TXU Corp.
So far, Lehman has more than doubled its cash reserves to $7 billion from $3.3 billion, in part through the sale of its headquarters to Barclays. It is also raising money by selling off the firm’s sizable art collection, whose value Lehman has pegged at roughly $30 million. Some of the photographs and paintings still grace the halls of Barclays and Lehman’s Neuberger unit.
Finally, there is a cavalry of corporate jets valued at $164 million. Lehman has already sold six jets, as well as interests in fractional shares service NetJets Inc. for $53 million. Still on the block: Six more planes, including a Boeing 767, and a Sikorsky chopper.
Some of those jets Lehman owned as investments and only four were used for corporate purposes at any one time, according to a Lehman spokeswoman.
“The fleet’s been grounded,” Mr. Marsal reassured the bankruptcy judge overseeing the case at a hearing last month. “Nobody is flying around these planes and no one is using the helicopter.”
Write to Peter Lattman at email@example.com
By PETER LATTMAN
FEBRUARY 2, 2009
Source: The Wall Street Journal