Welcome to my blog. I may write copy here that I would not present elsewhere. This blog allows me to comment while reporting for clients which can include subscription-only platforms. I use it to take a sideways look at running stories, and all views presented here are my own.

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Friday, 13 February 2009

I'm Blowing the Whistle on the Lehman Brothers Whistle Blower who Changed his Mind.

Investigating what was going on at Lehman Brothers September 2008, I was sent urgent messages and transcripts of webcasts from Tony Lomas, partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers during the momentous week when Lehman applied for bankruptcy protection and news footage showed anxious employees packing their boxes in New York and London. PricewaterhouseCoopers were brought in as administrators but reports abounded that there was not enough money to pay Lehman staff even for a week.

For my story, I got a senior Lehman Brothers manager to agree to go on the record on condition of anonymity, in a week when none of that company's employees were talking to the press. He asked me to send him my questions. I asked him;
Had he many enquiries from anxious members of staff about whether they would be paid or not,
What kind of questions were people asking him,
What information did he have from PricewaterhouseCoopers, the administrators about money available to pay the staff what they were due (reports were saying that there might not be enough money to pay staff currently working their due monies)
How he was feeling and what his own plans were,
And lastly, what was the atmosphere like around Lehman Brothers in Canary Wharf?

The gentleman answered my questions, I wrote up the story, and then something happened to make him change his mind. He suddenly started sending me feverish messages asking me not to publish him, he told me he was scared about losing his job, and after giving the matter due consideration I agreed to his request. In fact, I rewrote the story completely. Now, more than three months on from the event, to the best of my knowledge the sense of danger the manager was feeling has passed, he has relocated in the City and I can publish his answers.

The Lehman Brothers manager told me that, at the time, employees were running in and out of his office desperate to know about their salaries and whether or not they would be paid at the end of the week in question. He said that the atmosphere was febrile, that people were highly emotional and crying. He mentioned one employee who had been away on a holiday, somewhere exotic like Mauritius, who was getting married and was planning a luxury honeymoon; all on his Lehman salary which in all probability had just disappeared! The source told me that he had not been able to inform this employee that PricewaterhouseCoopers had been brought in as administrators and that Lehman Brothers was no longer operating commercially, so the bridegroom-to be was going to get a nasty shock when he headed back into London.

The source said that with a wife, children and mortgage he was really worried about his own future although he did feel that in his position, with his responsibilities, he would be kept on for the immediate future.

Of course I would never reveal the name and contact details of my source; the rules of my profession forbid this. And I respected his request, even though, legally, I could have ignored it - there was some discussion about this in the office.

But given the relative innocuity of his answers, and his guaranteed anonymity, I wonder what or who it was that made him change his mind after he had taken the trouble to talk with me and answer my questions. Was it just the paranoia and fear surrounding those who work for sinking companies? Or was there something more? If anyone connected with the matter can shed some light on this, I'd be interested in finding out.

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