Wharton Graduation May 1990


History doesn’t repeat itself but it does rhyme.

This quote is one of my favorites from Mark Twain and is entirely apropos after last week’s roller coaster ride on Wall Street and the subsequent government bailout of our financial system. So what business does a self-professed Mommy blogger have dishing about last week’s market turmoil? Let me zero in on just one tiny bit of shrapnel from the past several days.

The year was 1990 and like all of my Wharton undergrad classmates, I went through rounds and rounds of interviews with investment banks on Wall Street. The cutthroat culture in the student career center was enough to give you a big fat ulcer. We all compared notes on a daily basis and made each other either totally paranoid or gut wrenchingly envious.

Which interviews did you get?

What about that jerk from Goldman? Wait, you liked him?

How in the world did she land a JP Morgan interview?? The girl can’t tie her own shoes!

Those seniors who impressed the recruiting professionals during the on-campus interviews would be given a golden ticket to “Super Saturday” where you would be whisked up to New York for the weekend and spend the day in no less than ten back-to-back 30 minute interviews with various directors. The interviewers didn’t seem to mind being there for an entire Saturday – because they were usually there working every Saturday, a fact they made known at every possible opportunity. If you were lucky enough to be made an offer for the following year, you should also expect to work 80 hours each week on average…and like it. Starting salaries were $38,000 plus bonus which was the most money anyone out of Penn was making at the time. But it wasn’t so much about the job or the salary for most of us. It was about the prestige of landing one of the biggies.

I was fortunate enough to make it up to several “Super Saturdays” probably for a number of reasons. I was female with a 3.5, an athlete, and I worked for a professor who did a great deal of academic work on “high yield debt” better known as junk bonds. For my part, I had my sights set on one notorious bank in particular: Drexel Burnham Lambert. I was admittedly star struck by the fame and notoriety of Michael Milken, but I do remember that I liked the people I spoke to there. During the third and final round of interviews, I had to explain why I wanted to work for Drexel. I said that I couldn’t really describe it but it was definitely driven from here (pointing to my heart) rather than here (pointing to my head). It was a little grandiose but seemed fitting for the company I was keeping. One of the women interviewing me smiled and winked. A week later in late January, I got the offer. Come summer, I was moving to New York City!

Two weeks later Drexel Burnham Lambert failed in spectacular fashion and I watched on the TV as all the people who vetted me so carefully walked out of their building with boxes filled with their personal belongings.

I remember wondering if they would still send me a check for my Amtrak train reimbursement from last week’s interview (They did.) I no longer had a job with the firm of my choice and I was completely spooked. Rather than consider any other Wall Street offers, I took a job with the local commercial bank, The Philadelphia National Bank, in my hometown. It was not nearly as sexy as going to New York and my starting salary was 30 percent less. I didn’t have the bragging rights that I had just a few weeks earlier, but it felt right. Many of my classmates who took jobs at PruBache, Shearson Lehman, and other banks were laid off in that next year, not unlike the Lehman Bros employees last week.

It may have seemed like the end of the world back then. The collapse of Drexel altered the course of my life dramatically. But my life, I must say, has been pretty great without that first killer Wall Street job. And my career has gone as well as I ever could have hoped. The universe was operating in everyone’s best interest back then. It seems a little humility was the right medicine at a time when we all got too greedy and in love with ourselves. Hopefully, it will be again this time around.

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