x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 September 2017

A career rebirth from Lehman Brother's ashes: How one woman's life changed after the bank's sudden collapse

Caroline White's career in finance ended when Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy in September 2008

The headquarters of the Lehman Brothers investment bank on Sixth Avenue, New York
The headquarters of the Lehman Brothers investment bank on Sixth Avenue, New York

After 16 years of 7am starts, 14-hour days and few holidays, Caroline White’s successful and hectic career in finance effectively came to a halt at 5am on September 15, 2008.

Her husband had a habit of sleeping with the radio on. He woke her when he heard the news from the United States that Lehman Brothers had filed for bankruptcy. After weeks of uncertainty and the strong belief that a ‘white knight’ would come riding to the rescue of the stricken investment bank, for Ms White, now 46, and many of Lehman’s London staff it was all over.

The collapse of Lehman was the largest bankruptcy in US history and its demise has been viewed as the moment that triggered the crisis that brought the global financial system to its news.

Ms White got up, got changed and went into work. For the next month in Lehman’s London headquarters, the photocopier didn’t stop as CVs were printed off and rival firms picked over the skeleton of a dying 158-year giant and took their best staff.

She was good at the job on the fixed income trading floor and was approached by other firms. She did some consultancy work but as banks recognised the enormity of the financial crisis over the next few weeks all hiring came to a stop. She wanted to return to the industry but found that she couldn’t.

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“Suddenly I had all this time on my hands,” she told the National. She stayed at home, baked cakes and sent pictures to her husband. “I didn’t know what to do with myself.”

Ms White, a former gymnast, had always wanted to do Hatha Yoga but never had a spare 90 minutes to go to classes. That all changed with the collapse of Lehman.

Loving the classes, she decided to train to become an instructor in the United States – and in the process developed her post-Lehman plans to set up a fashion label.

“As time moved on from the event, I became less bothered about getting back in and other things started to fill my life,” she said. “If I hadn’t been made redundant in that way, I would probably still be in it [banking and finance]”

Launched a year to the day after the collapse of Lehman, Ms White launched sukishufu.com based in London to sell urban and stylish activity wear. It started with a laptop bag design - with a lining plundered from the Lehman evacuation kit that was left under the desk of every employee.

She did her market research when she went on the yoga course. Harrods became the first stockist when she started producing branded yoga mats and in 2013 moved into clothing with an exclusive collection for the store.

She now has a showroom in Los Angeles, ten employees and is considering whether to expand with outside investment.

She says it’s been an emotional rollercoaster. She misses the intellectual stimulus of dealing with some of the world’s most talented traders. She misses the fact that she does not have an IT team instantly to hand when her laptop goes wrong.

But she doesn’t miss the long hours and there are other compensations for a businesswoman who has immersed herself into her new trade.

“I get excited over the delivery of new zips,” she said.