Investing in Your People

I remember when I worked for Lehman Brothers (at their mortgage-serving subsidiary in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, Aurora Loan Services) after leaving Citi in late ‘06.

Lehman had a corporate policy of ONLY providing tuition reimbursement for 1- & 2-rated employees (top 30%) & on top of that, they had to get an A or B in the course. And it didn’t even cover books or materials needed!

I tried convincing “the powers that be” @ Aurora that the 3- & 4-rated employees (65% of the workforce) would benefit EVEN MORE from a college education than the higher-performing people.



I fought with everyone tooth & nail over this…but they were nothing but ignorant, head-nodding puppets. No matter what I said, it fell upon deaf ears.

There wasn’t even the slightest hint of “Let’s see”…or “Perhaps if we”…or “Maybe I can help you raise this issue up the corporate ladder in NY”.


Just more of that damned Mike trying to stir the pot & cause trouble.

I even wrote directly to Lehman’s CEO Richard Fuld & President Joseph Gregory…no formal response whatsoever from them.

(Gregory was the same dude I wrote to in Dec 2007 when I was battling with Aurora’s practice of using “Mountain Time” on its customer statements & correspondence.

“98%+ of our customers DO NOT LIVE IN THE MOUNTAIN TIME ZONE!!! How absolutely idiotic is it for us to use MT just because our company (plus Denver & a few mountain goats) is located in the MT zone?

“If we can’t “customize” the statements, using the customer’s address, then just let’s use ET/Eastern Time like the rest of normal America!!!”

When they put me in the corner for a time-out, I wrote directly to the Lehman President & lo and behold, Gregory issued a corporate-wide directive, effective immediately, that ALL customer communications must reference Eastern Time in the absence of the ability to “personalize it” for every customer!)

Guess they were too damned busy fudging the corporate books in an attempt to hoodwink Wall Street & their analysts into thinking that we were a solid company with excellent financials & a solid footing.

Instead, we pulled some very slimy accounting moves to make us look way better financially than what we really were.

In early 2008, after Bear Stearns (one of our major investment bank rivals) went belly up & were purchased by Chase, corporate PR put together a series of Qs & As for my Customer Service Unit to use to address any customer concerns & questions we would receive about Lehman’s solvency.

After reading it, I FLATLY REFUSED to use it as it contained several untruths & presented internal projections as “absolute facts”!

I received incredible pressure from upstairs to “obey their orders”. I responded by saying that “Hey, I’m from NY & if you think you’re gonna bully me into promulgating these outright lies, I’ll go straight to the Feds & to every major media outlet I can think of & expose all these lies!”

I didn’t think I had the balls, but I somehow mustered up the courage.

Right is might.

They actually agreed to let me rewrite the entire piece for my people…that was after Aurora got into contact with Lehman’s Public Relations area & legal counsel.

Then, a month or so later, while Citi & Merrill Lynch (the largest investment bank, along with Goldman Sachs) were announcing multi-billion dollar LOSSES for 1Q ’08, Lehman “curiously” posted a $498MM PROFIT.

Note: You guys should read some of the dozens & dozens of stories written about the collapse of Lehman Brothers & how the Feds flatly refused to provide loan guarantees to Barclays Bank & Bank of America to buy the firm!

Yet, the Fed came to the rescue of Merrill Lynch (allowing it to be purchased by BofA with funding assistance) & hundreds of other financial services companies that were in DEEP TROUBLE, but allowed Lehman Brothers to serve as its sacrificial lamb.

Oh, well, back to our tuition reimbursement story & the company’s incredibly-shortsighted view of what “helping your people succeed” is really all about…

I even paid…out of my own pocket… for 2 of my people (Miranda Nightengale & Ranee Wignall) to take an Access database training course at the local community college.

Access is like “Excel on steroids…a multi-level database program that can easily handle stuff that far exceeds Excel’s capabilities.”

Midway through their course, I’m summoned into a meeting with the head of HR & my boss. HR actually had the gall to ask me if there was any funny business going on & if I was playing favorites.

I hit the ceiling as it was really an accusation, poorly disguised as a question. I was freakin’ furious…and hurt!

* * * * * And in the manner of always telling you guys the absolute truth in all of my stories here, Miranda (25) & Ranee (22) were young ladies who were absolutely drop-dead gorgeous.

11 out of 10 on any scale you’d like to use.

But Miranda worked directly for me, handling tons of different assignments & projects and truly needed the expanded functionality that Access provided. And she was simply outstanding!

Ranee was one of my senior-level Escalation reps, knew Excel extremely well & professed a sincere desire to learn even more.

And since they were personal friends (of each other), I thought that by sending both of them to this evening course, it would serve as impetus for each of them to keep up with the other & they could also help one another with assignments, studying, babysitting, etc.. * * * * *

And I told that exactly to my boss & the HR Senior VP, albeit in a somewhat, slightly-raised tone of voice. Requests for me to calm down and a chorus of “Well, you need to understand how it looks. We never had anyone ever do that before!” just pushed me over the edge. I may have used a couple of not-really-nice words.

I asked them if I should call my lawyer now or wait until the meeting was over.

They kept reassuring me that no one was taking any action against me. That this whole charade was really for my good so “there are no indications of favoritism or anything else”.

I was no longer being accused, but the idea of physically banging their two heads together until I could actually play a tune did cross my mind.

A couple of times.

“Are you OK, Mike?”

“I’m fine. My hands always shake like this!”

I should’ve sued the pants off those small-minded idiots like I threatened to!

When Lehman Brothers finally crashed & burned in September as the 1st fatality of the Great Mortgage Crisis of 2008, I profusely thanked Ms. Karma (though it was personal hell for me).

And I remembered how they kept reassuring us earlier that year how “securely capitalized” we were.


I remember being in a big meeting at the time with all the honchos at Aurora & of course, being that crazy NYer, everyone seemed to give me “that look”.

You know, like they caught me sneaking in after curfew & were disappointed in me!

I told them that the prepared communication piece amounted to nothing more than a bunch of propaganda & that they were stating stuff as “facts” that just couldn’t be proven nor substantiated. I wouldn’t agree to have my people lying to our customers.

The material had to be carefully revised, I said, so that my people were, indeed, telling the truth…in a somewhat-crafty manner. Public Affairs had very bright people who could easily handle that task.

Bottom line? I rewrote the piece myself in <15 minutes & submitted it to them for review & approval.

Took them well over an hour to finally get back to us. When I got the word back that I should now distribute it to my people, I told them that I already did.

An hour ago.

I’d be damned if I was gonna let my people flounder out there, unable to properly address our customers’ concerns, while a bunch of stuffed shirts in NY…who originally crafted a bunch of lies…reviewed my stuff!

All right, that’s it for this story.

(At least my people loved me & truthfully, since I knew I was always trying to do the right thing for everyone…despite the incredible obstinance & resentment I faced from my peers & superiors…that’s really all that mattered to me.

They were so stuck in their “This is how we’ve always done it!” mentality that they couldn’t possibly consider anything different or foreign to be actually a better way of doing business. C’est la vie!)

BTW, Miranda is now an Asst VP with the Bank of Omaha, doing incredibly well & running her own Mortgage Processing unit!!! 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻


As always, thank you so very much for listening!

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