The Subprime Awards: The Saddest, Most Hilarious Tales From a Battered Wall Street

Lydia Hearst

Photo-illustration: Everett Bogue; Photos: istockphoto

If you know someone who works on Wall Street, there’s a pretty good chance he’s either been fired or — we have it on good authority — will be fired in the near future. The subprime crisis has massacred the city’s banks, wiping out not just plankton, but big fish, too — and resulted in all manner of juicy details related to the layoffs. Here we hand down awards for the juiciest, from Pettiest Money-Saving Measure to Most Impotent Kiss-Off E-mail.

Best Revenge for Being Fired
Merrill Lynch employees apparently don’t take any shit: Charlie Gasparino reported that in January, a worker “inappropriately relieved himself” because he was angry over his bonus. And it’s rumored that one former analyst responded to his firing by sending out a mass internal e-mail that contained a crippling computer virus.

Pettiest Money-Saving Measure
The 2,000 workers who got the boot from Morgan Stanley could take solace in the fact that they would no longer have to work for a company that, as part of a new cost-cutting initiative enacted in early May, refused to provide taxi reimbursement until after 10 p.m. (Previously, it was 9 p.m.)

Most Insulting Bonuses
In July, Citigroup — which on the Street is affectionately known as “Shittygroup” — doled out bonuses to first-year employees according to a five-tier scale. The best performers, who were placed in tier one, took home an extra $65,000, according to DealBreaker. The tier-five prize was never leaked. Citi insiders like to think it was the message “You’re fired,” supplemented with a DVD of Glengarry Glen Ross.

Least Funny Kidding E-mail About Imminent Layoffs
With rumors of layoffs circulating, a Wachovia supervisor in the company’s Charlotte headquarters showed he had a sense of humor about the whole thing, telling his nervous staff in an e-mail that “If you are here by the end of the day, you’re okay.” (CEO Ken Thompson, incidentally, was one of the unlucky ones.)

Most Ironic Actual Award
Swiss bank UBS found time between helping clients avoid paying taxes to pink-slip 1,000 New York employees, including CEO Peter Wuffli. On the same day, May 6, that the bank let go a gaggle of workers, it collected an honor called the “Heart of Gold Award” from the Volunteer Center of Southwestern Fairfield County. They made sure to broadcast the news in a mass e-mail to current and former staff.

Smallest Solace for Layoffs
On June 30, new UBS CEO Marcel Rohner announced that all employees (not counting MDs) are entitled to take one extra day off in 2008.

Best Sacrifice of a Long-Term Ally
Morgan Stanley has held up a bit better than some of its brethren, which is not saying much. (Morgan wrote down $10.8 billion at the end of last year.) Rumors circulated that the end was near for CEO John Mack. But he spared himself the ax, taking the chivalrous route and instead firing his lady co-president Zoe Cruz. Read the wonderful story in full here.

Best Euphemism for “You’re Canned”
Goldman Sachs made it out of this thing relatively unscathed, having to eliminate only 500 of its New York staff. And the bank got rid of them in its inimitable “we-always-win” fashion. According to a source, the firm let go of a handful of first-years in June by telling the small fries that they were being “placed into the accelerated one-year analyst program — and it ends today.” They stopped short of offering a hearty “Congratulations!” (The young alums are being paid through August.)

Next Best Euphemism for “You’re Canned”

Though a few lucky Bear Stearns employees were offered jobs after JPMorgan took over their bank, many, many were not. (Seven thousand New Yorkers were left out in the cold.) According to one former worker, a JPMorgan director paid a visit to BSC’s 383 Madison Avenue headquarters, rounded up a large group of employees and told them: “As you probably realize, we cannot take you on, and as you may or may not be aware, JPMorgan decided to keep the head count the same as before the merger. So now, you are free to look for other jobs.”

Most Impotent Kiss-Off E-mail

One Bear Stearns associate e-mailed a bunch of senior executives to complain about the details of his firing: “It saddens me that you have so simply, arrogantly and cruelly changed the severance classification of the equity research department personnel on the very day no-less that layoffs commenced. This change is reprehensible and you-can-bet grounds for litigation. Many of us in the research department were persuaded to stay and await final determination of our employment status because of the way the severance packages were structured; mind-you, a very deliberate structuring on JPMorgan/Bear’s part for the very reason to dupe us into staying at Bear. Shame on you! You lied! And, of course, the loyal employees your glib lies hurt the most are those who earned the least, the Associates.” —Bess Levin

The Subprime Awards: The Saddest, Most Hilarious Tales From a Battered Wall Street