Facing Down the Financial Crisis After School

How to make the most of a dire economic situation

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I first landed on a London trading floor in 2001. I started in high-yield research and worked my way up, developing a strong interest in finance—credit trading in particular. I won't lie; it was tough. I was a young woman and a foreigner (French) working in a high-pressure environment, and I'd been thrown into the deep end. But I thrived amid the intensity and really enjoyed the challenge.

I started to explore the possibility of getting an M.B.A. in 2005 when it became clear to me that I would benefit from a formal academic qualification. I talked with work colleagues who had earned M.B.A.'s in Europe and the United States and consulted with a boss who was a mentor to me. He recommended Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business from the five business schools to which I was accepted, and it helped me make my final decision. 

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Of course, there were big draws at Tuck: the beautiful campus, the warmth of the admissions office staff, the close alumni network, and the location. I was ready for a break from city life, and New Hampshire was a major pull.

In my time at Tuck, I experienced a true sense of community: the closeness and incredible caliber of the student body and faculty, the lifelong friendships, and the professional network. My goal was to return to banking after Tuck with a lot more confidence and a top M.B.A. under my belt. I felt there was no limit to what I could accomplish.

Toward the end of the summer of 2007, I joined the associates program at a major investment bank in London, where I worked with a leveraged finance team. In my first days there, news reports showed people lined up outside Northern Rock, a well-known commercial bank based in the United Kingdom. Customers feared that Northern Rock would go bankrupt, and they were trying to get their money out. This really marked the start of the financial crisis. Then, of course, it went from bad to worse with the Lehman Brothers collapse.

I went through six rounds of layoffs—or redundancies, as we call them in England—in my team. Each time, my colleagues became more and more uneasy. I tried to stay focused despite talk of the "worst recession ever" or news of thousands of London bankers being made redundant. I heard that friends were not finding work. Trading desks were being shut down left, right, and center. Before you knew it, I was on the phone talking with headhunters, family, and friends more than I was getting work done. My team worked with financial products that were cut after the bank, with help from a U.S. bailout cash injection, changed its status to a bank holding company.

Alumni assist. Finally, I became one of the casualties. But I was fortunate. I had a support system that helped me get through the crisis: my Tuck network. This is what an M.B.A. program is really about. I picked up the phone and cold-called alums—recent graduates and senior bankers. They shared their experiences and advice and even recommended me to other alums and colleagues. They offered to do whatever they could. I was one of the family. I needed no other reason to call. I felt proud to be part of such a strong community. I had home phone numbers of well-respected Tuck alumni.

I landed on my feet pretty quickly and found a job with a credit fund. I was humbled by the fact that when few people could find work, I ended up with a role that suited me perfectly. While my M.B.A. provided the skill set to be successful, it also provided a network to help nurture the confidence necessary to survive the past year.

I have come to understand that my M.B.A. was an investment decision in which risks and rewards were weighed and assessed, and in the end, the return was greater than I ever expected.

Laetitia Veleba works at a credit fund in London. She graduated from the Tuck School of Business at ­Dartmouth in 2007. Prior to that, she was a high-yield credit analyst at a major ­European investment bank.