Looking Back at Lehman’s Collapse With the Woman Who Fell Farthest

Erin Callan’s new memoir recalls the steep price she paid to become Lehman’s CFO just in time for the financial crisis.

As the financial system was teetering and about to collapse, Erin Callan had a prescient exchange with one of her colleagues at Lehman Brothers. It was Nov. 29, 2007, and news that the co-president of Morgan Stanley, Zoe Cruz, had just been fired after her firm took a $3.7 billion loss on subprime mortgage securities was flashing across TV screens all over Lehman’s trading floor. Joe Gregory, the chief operating officer of Lehman, popped into Callan’s office. “Did you see the Morgan Stanley news?” Gregory asked. “The news about Zoe?” Callan, who was about to take over as Lehman’s chief financial officer, was distressed. Cruz was one of the highest-ranking women on Wall Street. Without her, Callan would be left standing nearly alone as a female atop a male-dominated industry, like a weather vane attached to a roof that may or may not have been sound. The parallels with Cruz’s situation were obvious.

“Zoe’s destiny was my possible destiny,” Callan writes in a new memoir published Monday. “Her story was similar to my story in a big picture way.”

Callan wrote her book, Full Circle: A Memoir of Leaning In Too Far and the Journey Back, to try to share the lessons she learned—painfully and publicly—about the dangers of prioritizing one’s career ahead of everything else. She now sees that her total obsession with work and achievement came at the expense of everything else in her life, including meaningful personal relationships. Lehman turned out to be at the center of the financial crisis and ultimately filed for bankruptcy in September 2008. Callan had left the company months before, but she was still shamed and humiliated, her face appearing like a mug shot on newspapers across the country.

Read on.

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