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I was laid off from Lehman Brothers right before it collapsed. Here's what the final chaotic weeks were like from the inside.

Business Insider logo Business Insider 12/1/2022 insider@insider.com (Emma Magnus)
Adam Taylor outside the former Lehman Brothers office building in London. Adam Taylor © Adam Taylor Adam Taylor outside the former Lehman Brothers office building in London. Adam Taylor
  • Adam Taylor had been working in M&A at Lehman Brothers in London for 2½ years in 2008.
  • He was made redundant in August 2008 and describes the atmosphere before the company went under.
  • Taylor launched a pet-food-subscription business in 2010 and said he loves entrepreneurship. 

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Adam Taylor, a former employee of Lehman Brothers. It has been edited for length and clarity.

In August 2008, I woke up to a phone call from my boss, asking if I would be coming into the office that day. I'd been there until 2 a.m. working on a deal. Something felt off. 

I went straight into a meeting with my team head.  He was sitting on one side of a comically large table in the boardroom. He said: "Adam, I'm making you redundant." 

The shock of being laid off was awful

I didn't want to believe it. I had recently moved from the UK mergers and acquisitions team to the consumer M&A team and hadn't heard rumors that people were being laid off that day. I think they expected me to leave the office immediately, but I went to my desk to process the news and tried to work out my options.

I had started working at Lehman Brothers in the summer of 2005, when I was 25. I did a 12-week summer internship and was offered a job with the UK M&A team.

I enjoyed working for Lehman Brothers, and I didn't. 

There were perks — I created lifelong friends from my incoming analyst group, and the office was in the heart of Canary Wharf. It was luxurious, with green marble everywhere and mahogany walls and doors. 

The job was challenging. There were high expectations and long hours. I found it exciting to see how hard I could work, but the novelty wears off. 

In retrospect, there were warning signs before it collapsed

At the time, nobody thought Lehman Brothers would go under in 2008. Nobody knew how bad it was.

I had friends who bought shares in Lehman Brothers when they were really low, thinking they were only going to go up, but they lost their money. Only one friend predicted the whole system was going to collapse, but they were an anomaly. 

In retrospect, there were warning signs. Half my previous team left for Credit Suisse in the months prior to my redundancy. There were rumors flying about whether people would be laid off.

There were three rounds of layoffs. I was let go in the second wave, just before the company went into administration, which is similar to bankruptcy in the US. 

As people left, everyone wondered if that was the last round or if it was just the beginning. When it happened to me, I was shocked because I'd been working on one of the company's biggest active deals.

I lost the sense of identity I had linked to the company

For 2½ years, I'd been "Adam Taylor who works at Lehman Brothers."

I went to work every day for the first month of my notice period to use my network of contacts. I was desperately meeting with headhunters about job opportunities. I also had £500 on my Lehman meal card to use. On my last day, I walked out with bags of Coke cans to use it up.

People were probably thinking: "Why is Adam coming here?" But I think there was some power in staying — the team that let me go had to see me every day. 

Being made redundant is a blessing and a curse

Being laid off is an opportunity to find out what you want to do and what you enjoy.

I ended up getting a job as a management consultant at Simon-Kucher & Partners three months later. I didn't enjoy it for very long and handed in my notice after about eight months. 

After I left, I moved to New York to live with my parents, who had relocated there. Seeing my arthritic mother struggling to carry a bag of pet food gave me the idea for a pet-food-subscription business. 

In 2010, I moved back to the UK and set up PetShop.co.uk, a pet-food-subscription service, with my now wife, Lexi. The pet-food industry wasn't particularly sexy. It wasn't full of young entrepreneurs, even though it's a competitive space. 

I went from wearing custom-made suits in Canary Wharf to hanging out in a cash-and-carry in Coventry picking out pet food. It was tough building our company from scratch, but we learned how to run a profitable business. 

It's funny how things end up. It's a tough gig, but entrepreneurship is the best thing that I've ever done. 

It's very fulfilling doing something you love. I feel like I've won the game of enjoying life.

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