Why aren't more people leaving Lehman?

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This week, Jeremy Isaacs has departed. Last week, Lehman lost its head of securitized products to DE Shaw, its managing director, chief administrative officer and head of strategic planning for capital markets to a fund of funds, and a regional director of its US structured investments business to JPMorgan. And Lehman is, of course, planning to enforce the departure of 1,500 of its collective in the near future. However, given the bank's current predicament, it's worth asking why more people haven't gone of their own volition.

Headhunters confirm that Lehman remains just as hard to extract staff from as ever it was.

"We had several clients asking us to target Lehman people over the summer. However, they have generally demonstrated a high degree of loyalty to the firm, declining to engage and look at other quality career opportunities," says Jeremy Kemp, an equity derivatives-focused headhunter in London.

A corporate finance-focused headhunter agrees that Lehman bankers remain recalcitrant: "Funnily enough, not that many people have left Lehman," she muses.

What's keeping Lehman bankers from rushing for the door? It can't be their stock options, which are massively underwater (although the bank is said to be taking steps to remedy this). Nor can Lehman bankers realistically expect much in the way of a bonus, although some of those hired in 2007 may still be on guarantees.

Brad Hintz, an analyst at Sanford Bernstein in New York and former Lehman CFO, says it's down to loyalty: "Dick Fuld is a good manager and is managing through this thing as best he can. There was nothing fundamentally wrong with the strategy - it was just that they were in the middle of the hurricane when it hit."

As Lehman tries to agree a $6bn refinancing package with Korean Development Bank, Hintz says the future will be tough, but predicts Lehman will pull through. One day, he says, the stock may even hit the average option strike price of $35 again.

In the meantime, Dick Bove, analyst at Punk Ziegel, says Lehman bankers would be better off in the unlikely event of a sale to HSBC: "They'd probably get to keep their jobs and they'd have a stock that might actually appreciate in value some time soon."

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