On March 14, a 12-year veteran of Goldman Sachs named Greg Smith quit his job. When he did, he took the extra step of submitting an op-ed piece to The New York Times that detailed his reasons. Titled “Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs,” the article pulled no punches in its description of the company’s environment as “toxic and destructive.”
Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd C. Blankfein and COO Gary D. Cohn responded via an internal memo that said “the assertions made by this individual… do not reflect our values, our culture and how the vast majority of people at Goldman Sachs think about the firm and the work it does on behalf of our clients.”
According to Reuters, Smith nabbed a $1.5 million book deal from Grand Central publishing. He's not the first person to leave Wall Street behind to find opportunity elsewhere. Many people have left careers in finance and found fulfillment in other areas, and many of them say their financial-sector background gave them an edge in starting a new venture.
Read ahead to find out about seven former financial sector executives who left it all behind, started over and found success.
By Daniel Bukszpan
Posted 6 June 2012
During the 1990s, Jamie Kutch worked for Merrill Lynch. When he wasn’t trading NASDAQ stocks, he was developing a passion for wine, and in 2005 he decided to follow that passion California to make his own wines. He had absolutely no experience making wine, but the risk paid off, and five years later, his wines are served in some of the finest restaurants in San Francisco.
Kutch told CNBC.com that leaving the financial sector was the right decision for him, but he describes his experience on Wall Street as instrumental to the success he's having now. “I understand businesses, I understand growth rates, I understand supply and demand,” he said. “You learn that pretty quickly as a trader.”
In 2006, John Zimmer took a job with Lehman Brothers in real estate finance. He felt no passion for the job and he left in 2008 to co-found Zimride, a ridesharing and carpooling business.
He remembers being castigated by a friend’s mother when he told her he was leaving the company to start his own business. “She said ‘How could you leave a sure thing like Lehman for a crazy idea like a rideshare company?’ Three or four months later they went bankrupt.”
Despite Lehman Brothers’ ignominious end, Zimmer still cites his time there as a valuable experience in building a new business. “Raising money and having a background in building financial models was helpful,” he told CNBC.com in an interview.
Arthur Kade embarked on a career with American Express Financial Advisers after graduating from Temple University, but it just wasn’t for him. In 2009, he left to pursue acting and modeling, but work was scarce. “I probably wasn’t meant to be a successful actor,” he told CNBC.com. But today he’s found a career as the host of an online celebrity talk show.
Kade’s first interview was with Jennifer Farley, best known to fans of “Jersey Shore” as Jwoww. Since then, he estimates that he has conducted between 300 and 400 interviews, with guests ranging from Olivia Newton-John to Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico and current Libertarian candidate for president. “Gary Johnson was great,” Kade said. “He kissed me during the interview.”
Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan was a management associate with Citibank. She left in 1999 after four years of 17 hour days. “I remember faxing things out at 3 a.m. and feeling like a princess locked in a tower,” she told CNBC.com by phone. But things changed when she was impressed by a combination of wine and herb-crusted salmon at a business lunch. “I was blown away by how well it fit.”
She began taking wine-tasting classes at the Windows on the World Wine School, then took a job at a retail wine store for $30,000 a year, a huge drop from her financial sector salary. “My family thought I was crazy,” she said. But today she’s a Master of Wine, one of only 30 in the U.S., and she says that she now makes more money than she did in finance. Her first book as sole author, “The One Minute Wine Master: Discover 10 Wines You'll Like in 60 Seconds or Less,” will be released in October.
One popular career destination for people who have left finance is the tech sector. Jon Stein was a senior consultant at First Manhattan Consulting Group who left in 2006 to form Betterment.com, an online brokerage firm.
“I knew I wanted to start a business and had the name even before I knew what we were going to do,” Stein said in a telephone interview with CNBC.com. “We still wanted to make money but wanted to do so in a way that was better aligned with our customers. We built the most frictionless, most automated and guided investment solution that has ever existed.”
Stein conceded in an interview with the New York Daily News that he and his team had given up large salaries to do what they’re doing now. “Mostly, this is about doing something satisfying and making a difference versus making a fat salary but feeling like a cog in the wheel.”
Manish Vora began his financial sector career as an investment banker for Citigroup. When he worked for the Monness, Crespi & Hardt equity research firm in New York City, he regularly attended events held by clients that took place in art galleries. He caught the art bug, and in 2008, he and web developer Dylan Fareed co-founded Artlog.com, a site featuring information about over 4,000 participating museums and galleries.
“We believe that a general audience for contemporary art is underserved, and that exciting work is overlooked in museums and galleries, on the Internet and on the street—even at biennials and art fairs,” the website says. “Our job is to make the good stuff easy to find.”
Some people work in the financial sector for years before moving on to something new. By contrast, former securities trader Kevin Selvy did his internship at Lehman Brothers when he was 22, and left Barclays at age 24 for greener pastures. Today, he is the CEO and brewmaster of the Crazy Mountain Brewing Company in Colorado.
Despite his financial background, getting the brewery financed was an uphill climb. “When I opened my brewery the economy was in a shambles,” he said. “It was nearly impossible to raise money. I got a bank loan and it was the first loan this bank had given out in two years.” However, Selvy stuck with it, and he told CNBC.com that the brewery is expected to grow by 600% this year.