THE BLOG

Life After Wall Street

08/17/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

It's no secret that thousands of former Masters/Mistresses of the Universe have left Wall Street since last year's meltdown. Some have landed at boutique firms or with competitors who are taking the opportunity to upgrade talent. Many others are still looking for their next job but a few have made the transition to a new industry and role, creating the kind of life for themselves and their families that may not have been allowed by the all-consuming 24/7 world of Wall Street. Not that their new work life is a walk in the park, given that we are talking about very smart people who are ambitious to achieve goals, driven to deliver results and are taking on a significant learning curve in their new organizations.

John McGeehan left Morgan Stanley as a Managing Director after a 25 year career that included a ten year stint in Japan. "When I left Morgan Stanley, I understood that I had the chance to rethink my "second act." My dreams for the future focused on an organization with a mission and culture that would inspire me and serve others." John and his wife have five kids and all are in service-oriented roles, so there was great support in his family for him to move to the less glamorous and lucrative world of not-for-profits.

John landed as Managing Director of Common Impact, a nonprofit organization that is helping global companies and local nonprofits build stronger communities through employee engagement programs. The nonprofit currently delivers high-impact skills-based volunteering programs to more than 120 nonprofits, drawing on the strength of nearly 20 corporate partners in the Boston, New York and Richmond, Virginia metropolitan areas.

His leadership and management skills and ability to market and sell services were a great fit with Common Impact's needs and their volunteer base of corporate employees. He also had experience as a long-time board member of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and experience as a volunteer in Japanese education institutions. These experiences after 6:00 p.m. and weekends made him well-aware of the meager resources and constant need for fund-raising in the not-for-profit worlds.

What's the big change for him? "The mission and culture are so meaningful...I know that we are making a huge difference. People are more collaborative and find ways to do a great deal with a little." The challenge that he didn't anticipate has to do with the need to coordinate with and satisfy so many different stakeholders and that ongoing need to find income in the face of rapidly increasing needs for service. There's another thing - the loss of affiliation with a well-recognized organization and senior title. "People used to call me back when I was with Morgan Stanley...I was surprised when people didn't call me back as John McGeehan from Common Impact. The surprise for me was how closely I identified with being an MD at a prestigious firm. But I wouldn't trade that in for feeling good about myself and how I spend my time when I pull the covers up at night. "

Chris Matthews is a seasoned, fifty-something marketing executive who has worked in a variety of industries and companies such as Coca-Cola, GE, MasterCard and WAMU, where he served as Chief Marketing Officer just before the market meltdown. Chris is taking the route that many people dream about, becoming an entrepreneur helping to monetize the rapid growth of social media.

Chris found himself on the market at a time when demand for his marketing and branding skill set are contracting, forcing him to be more creative and to look at the entrepreneurial option more closely. So he and two partners are raising money for their venture, Twiquet that uses the new distribution channels of social media such as Twitter and Facebook to make it easier and less expensive for people to buy tickets to live events. The business is a distribution platform between live event ticket suppliers and uses of social media. He's the "suit" in the mix and his much-younger partners are technologists.

Sports and entertainment events help to sell brands, so Chris was exposed to sports teams and live entertainment events at earlier stages of his career, making him no stranger to some of their needs and opportunities. He became an investor in a minor league hockey team, the Syracuse Crunch, part of the American Hockey league, motivated by fun. But this investor relationship has helped him to understand the flow of tickets, the controlling players and the need for a new distribution model. And his core competence of "how to identify markets and push product through" have helped him to create the business plan for Twiquet that is now being reviewed by angel investors and venture capitalists.

"The idea that you can start a business with little capital is very exciting...and new technologies accelerate the process whereas brick and mortar are usually variations on a theme, thus taking longer to build. The intellectual engagement that you get from these new technologies is exhilarating. All of it's risky and when you have kids, mortgages, college tuitions - all that you're facing - you understand the risks better."

Chris's wife recently asked him why he missed the first internet boom and why now? "Ten to fifteen years ago I was in the middle of creating my career and building my knowledge and skill sets. Now I have so much behind me and I can more easily see the dynamics of a venture and the opportunity in front of me. And investors usually want to see three key things: a balanced team at the top, a new differentiated idea and the potential for huge communities around your website. I am the experienced hand who can keep our business on the rails as we build it."

Lisa Fitzig was Deputy Head of the Global Industrial Group, Investment Banking for Citigroup, where she managed a 150-plus team that called on industrial and infrastructure clients worldwide for investment banking services, including mergers and acquisitions, equity and debt. She has also held positions as Chief Operating / Administrative Officer for the Mergers & Acquisitions Group and Managing Director for the Public Finance Department. After close to 30 years in the investment banking industry, she became a real estate sales person with the Corcoran Group in November of 2008, as mortgage rates were falling and the New York residential property market was deteriorating.

Lisa raised her hand to leave early in 2008 when Citi began to cut heads before the crisis conditions later in the year. "I saw the handwriting on the wall...and I was lucky to get out relatively early. I wanted to go into something entrepreneurial," she explains. "I wanted to be accountable to myself and do the work itself versus managing an organization."

Lisa has a rolodex full of colleagues and clients who valued her advice on the banking side and who will undoubtedly value her advice for their real estate transactions. She also brings seasoned business and negotiation skills, financial insight, and client service expertise. So the transition to residential property sales has required some learning but in many ways leverages her strengths from banking.

Why real estate? "This is a place where I can use a lot of what I enjoyed in investment banking, particularly helping people and their organizations and solving problems. I also love living in Manhattan and truly enjoy making people as happy with their home as I am with mine." Lisa also enjoys the financial analysis required for complex deals and finds that easier to do than many of her colleagues. Another huge advantage is the lack of travel required for the job: "I was constantly on planes as a banker and in this role a heavy travel day might mean leaving the Upper East Side to go to Tribeca!"

Lisa used her broad network to meet people in the industry and landed with Corcoran through her contacts. There are relatively low barriers to entry to a career in real estate, but the current market has seen many real estate professionals flee to other kinds of jobs. According to Lisa, "you have to be prepared to really work at it, gut it out and market yourself...there is still room for success in spite of the market." Of course compensation is very different animal - commissions only, very unlike the base salary and discretionary bonus characteristic of banking. "Be prepared to work really hard for awhile before you can show evidence of success. But the happiness that comes from doing something you love makes it all worth the hard work."