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By Jessica DiNapoli and Joshua Franklin
NEW YORK, Sept 21 (Reuters) - Ex-employees of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc met at Irish pubs near their former office in Midtown Manhattan on Thursday night to reminisce 10 years after the bank's collapse, in gatherings with the atmosphere of high school reunions despite marking the largest failure of the financial crisis.
More than 100 traders, lawyers and recruiters who worked at Lehman shot the breeze at Connolly's Pub and the Playwright Tavern, both blocks away from the investment bank's old headquarters.
They recalled the best times at Lehman, which had a reputation as a scrappy underdog competing against larger rivals like Goldman Sachs Group Inc and JPMorgan Chase & Co , before filing the biggest-ever U.S. bankruptcy by assets on Sept. 15, 2008.
"Who has a reunion about a bankruptcy?" joked Kevin Genirs, who was senior legal counsel at the bank. "Lehman always had a great group of people who enjoyed working together."
Vanessa Jagenburg, who was one of Lehman's few female managing directors in equities, recalled earning the nickname Vanna when she first joined Lehman in 1989, after "Wheel of Fortune" host Vanna White. She thinks a trader based on the West Coast bestowed the nickname because he thought she looked like the TV star, even though she was not blonde.
"It was the greatest ride of my life," said Jagenburg, who was trading memories with former colleague Ron Gold, who worked in sales.
Reuters spoke to more than a dozen people at the two soirees, where Stella Artois beer and vodka sodas flowed freely and some attendees scarfed down hamburgers while getting updates on former colleagues' lives. Most were dressed in business attire and said they have remained in finance, though their careers have gone in directions they would not have predicted before 2008.
Matt Lewis worked in subprime mortgages at Lehman, pitching securitizations to clients who originated loans. He now uses his skills at a boutique firm, but because the mortgage market has changed dramatically since the crisis, much of Lewis' business has dried up.
"It's like having worked on an assembly line at Ford," said Lewis. "But they didn't just move the plant or close the line down. Now everyone's driving a hovercraft."
After seeing many of his 26,000 Lehman colleagues lose their jobs, Darren Kimball bought an outplacement services firm, now called GetFive.
"I had a great first career," said Kimball who worked in equity research sales and trading at Lehman. "But I don't miss being a slave to a stock going up or down on a Tuesday." (Reporting by Jessica DiNapoli and Josh Franklin in New York Editing by Leslie Adler)