R.I.P. Bear Stearns
Theodore Bressman, the editor of the Intern Memo, joins us to share his thoughts on the demise of the company that taught him most, if not all, of the things he knows about business.
I'm not a big commerce guy, even though I've had a few finance internships and I buy stuff sometimes, but seeing Bear Stearns' collapse has been kind of an emotional experience for me. While it probably means I'll never get arrested for sexual harassment (I honed my rap "e-battling" skills on the Bear Stearns web server during my '03 internship at the Metrotech offices in Brooklyn), it also means the company that literally sold paperclips to its employees to save cash early on is dead.
You know, I'm not sure charging employees for necessary office supplies is the best way to foster goodwill in the office, but at least it sent A MESSAGE. A message that financial responsibility was going to be the M.O. of the firm. And that's what it was...for a while.
Bear was a throwback company. They had posters of their top employees in the office, they seemed to value public service more than other firms, and they had the ultimate "Ace" up their sleeve, the older bloke with the flair and joie de vivre of a recent MBA grad, but with the experience and perspective of a particularly wise octogenarian.
It was a company to be proud of.
But then 383 was erected.
At first it was exciting. Armed with state-of-the art conference rooms perfect for telecommunication seminars and a cafeteria that could easily "break bread" with Frank Gehry's culinary oasis in the new Conde Nast building on 42nd, 383 towered over Madison avenue with a message clear as day: Bear had finally earned its place among the financial giants of Midtown Manhattan.
I was initially taken by the building just like the rest of them. It was fucking awesome. But my internship ended and I was back in an academic environment, so naturally I started thinking. Was this great architectural achievement a symbolic break from the ethos on which the company was founded? Was Bear getting too big for its britches?
They definitely weren't charging for paper clips anymore. In fact, they were passing out pens and leather-bound resume folders like their employees were playing SUPERMARKET SWEEP at a Staples. That's all good and well, I guess, but it's hard to ignore the overriding influence at play: MOXIE. A moxie that could one day lead to leveraging most of your liquid assets in an alarmingly volatile climate.
Bear will probably be remembered for its fantastic demise - images of JP Morgan employees raiding the beautiful building on Madison avenue for documents to see if the company was worth acquiring - but I'll remember it differently. I'll remember it for the blue blood that once coarsed through the building's water. I'll remember it as the last firm to still hire employees on work ethic alone. So what if their banking division was packed with fancy Ivy League grads and ambitious MBAs? The backbone of the firm was in Brooklyn and it was built on blue collar high school grads and responsible employees that knew how to safely manage an account without too much risk. The Bear Stearns I'll remember is the Bear of Metrotech, BK, right off Jay Street. It didn't have a fancy "stock ticker" or "fountain sodas," but it had posters of Ace Greenberg and non-scannable ID cards. Its library was full of copies of MEMOS FROM THE CHAIRMAN and the cafeteria boasted a remarkably unhealthy cuisine.
So the future of this company hangs in the balance and that bloke who was worth $100 billion is now worth like $62 million and chances are he probably wants to kill himself. But I wouldn't if I were him. Because if I weren't broke, I'd be loading up on Bear Stock right now, because at least I’d be buying something REAL.