February 28, 2024

DealBook: After the Lehman Storm, a Calmer Life and a New Book

Jared Dillian has written a book about his frantic, alcohol-fueled life at Lehman Brothers.Marilynn K. Yee/The New York TimesJared Dillian has written a book about his frantic, alcohol-fueled life at Lehman Brothers.

Jared Dillian, a former Lehman Brothers trader, was strolling through the Museum of American Finance located in an old bank building on Wall Street, when he stopped in front of a placard that read: “Remember that the stock market is manic-depressive.”

“Get a picture of that,” he said with a chuckle.

The epigram, a quote from Berkshire Hathaway’s chairman, Warren E. Buffett, rang especially true for Mr. Dillian, who struggled with bipolar and obsessive-compulsive disorders during his seven-year tenure at Lehman, now defunct.

In 2003, five years before Lehman went bust, Mr. Dillian was dealing with his own crisis. The stress of being a Lehman trader, a job in which millions of dollars were gambled every hour, had made him horribly depressed. He blew up frequently at work, went on drinking binges, and at one point, he writes in “Street Freak: Money and Madness at Lehman Brothers,” his recently released book, he downed half a bottle of Tylenol PM in a half-hearted suicide attempt.

Mr. Dillian wasn’t punished for his intensity at Lehman. In fact, it got him promoted. One day, he said, he slammed his phone down after a trade went sour, breaking the receiver. His colleagues rewarded this with a standing ovation.

“Dude, it’s a stressful job,” he said, eyeing a vintage 1981 Quotron trading terminal on display in the museum’s exhibit on the history of trading.

Mr. Dillian left the world of trading after the collapse of Lehman. He now lives in Myrtle Beach, S.C., where he writes The Daily Dirtnap, a financial newsletter for traders. While at Lehman, he began writing regular market reports. Those missives eventually got him noticed by a literary agency — and landed him a book deal.

“He’s living a peaceful life,” said Will Ford, a former colleague of Mr. Dillian’s at Lehman who is now the head trader at Royal Capital Management. “He’s still got one leg in the markets, and one leg in writing. He’s doing exactly what he wants.”

Mr. Dillian, 37, did appear placid during the museum tour earlier this week. But he said that rehashing the events of his time at Lehman has been difficult.

“I was being interviewed by this blog yesterday, and they were being sort of glib, like, ‘I’m sure you can laugh about this stuff now,’” he said. “And I was like, ‘No, not really. Those were some painful times in my life.’”

Mr. Dillian came to Lehman in 2001 after serving five years as a lieutenant in the Coast Guard. He worked his way to the top of the firm’s exchange-traded funds desk, where he made as much as $850,000 a year and earned himself a front-row seat for the bank’s spectacular collapse. But his mental illness went undetected.

“There’s a body-armor principle,” said Lawrence G. McDonald, a former Lehman vice president and author of “A Colossal Failure of Common Sense: The Inside Story of the Collapse of Lehman Brothers” who worked with Mr. Dillian at the firm. “If you were medicated, you’d never let anyone know.”

That culture of panicked repression, Mr. Dillian said, may have played a role in the most recent scandal to hit a major bank. Last week, Kweku M. Adoboli, a trader at UBS who is accused of losing his firm more than $2 billion in a series of unauthorized trades, was charged with fraud and false accounting. Mr. Dillian said that he was “empathetic, but not sympathetic” for Mr. Adoboli, who held a similar position at UBS.

“Some days as a trader, you lose discipline, and you make mistakes,” Mr. Dillian said. “But most people will eventually pull the plug after they lose $3 million or $5 million. They don’t let it get to $2 billion.”

Mr. Dillian said he hoped his book, which was timed to the third anniversary of Lehman’s collapse, would help Wall Street traders who have mental illnesses realize that they aren’t alone.

“It makes me feel good that the book is doing good things,” Mr. Dillian said, referring to the former colleagues who had contacted him since its release. “It’s making people more open and honest with all this stuff.”

At the museum, Mr. Dillian made his way to the scandal exhibit, which includes a display on Lehman’s implosion. In a glass-enclosed case, half a dozen Lucite “tombstones,” souvenirs from deals Lehman worked on in its heyday, were spread out under a photograph of Richard S. Fuld Jr., the bank’s chief executive.

While he had never met Mr. Fuld during his time at Lehman, Mr. Dillian said he admired the former chief for expanding Lehman from a small partnership to a major financial services firm. And although the executive lost perspective in the years leading up to its bankruptcy, Mr. Dillian said, Mr. Fuld didn’t deserve to be lumped in with convicted fraud artists like Bernard L. Madoff, whose story was told in an adjacent exhibit.

“It’s not against the law to be stupid,” Mr. Dillian said of Mr. Fuld and his lieutenants.

Mr. Dillian estimates that he lost $400,000 in Lehman’s collapse, when his restricted stock options became worthless.

But he said he thinks of Lehman’s collapse as a “gift” that got him out of the job that drove him to mental instability. He blames Mr. Fuld and his three top executives for the firm’s dissolution, though he holds no grudges today.

“Everyone thinks that because I worked at Lehman, I’m a bad guy,” Mr. Dillian said. “The reality is that they had 20,000 employees, and 19,996 of them were great.”

Glancing back at Mr. Fuld’s portrait in the exhibit, he added, “Four blew it up.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=b01df31947f3735678cee5d1e810c92c

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