Wall Street's Elite Head to Campus — for Jobs

  • Share
  • Read Later
Robert Holmes / Corbis

Greg Fleming, former president of Merrill Lynch, is now teaching at Yale University in New Haven, Conn.

Listen up, all ye coeds: the dress code on campus is about to kick up a notch. In the past year, a number of top financial professionals have decided to swap toxic assets and big acquisitions for academia.

Greg Fleming, former president of Merrill Lynch, is probably the highest-ranking Wall Streeter to make the move so far. Earlier this year, after Merrill was acquired by Bank of America, Fleming decided to exit the newly combined firm for Yale Law School. This semester, he is teaching a class that brings financial professionals to New Haven to explain the economic events of the past year — and the class is drawing praise not just from students but other teachers. (Read "Facebook's Latest Role: College Guidance Counselor.")

"He has really enriched our life at Yale," says Kate Stith, acting dean of the law school. "He's brought a lot of insight to the school on the state of the current global economic environment."

Fleming is not alone. Frank Yeary, Citigroup's former head of mergers and acquisitions, left the bank last summer to become a vice chancellor at the University of California, Berkeley. Apparently, Yeary's boss at the time was a little jealous. A month later, Citi's head of investment banking, Michael Klein, left for Princeton University. Harvard has nabbed a top Wall Streeter as well: Edward Frost left the job of Goldman Sachs' head of investment management to join that school as executive vice president. (See pictures of 10 cities that are hiring at LIFE.com.)

Successful Wall Streeters have long maintained ties to their former universities, especially through large donations. One example: the Weill Cornell Medical College is named after the former Citigroup CEO Sandy Weill. They also regularly serve on university boards and help manage endowments.

But relatively few Wall Streeters over the years have decided to give up the fat paychecks and luxury perks of high finance for the world of education. Those who did often had midlevel jobs on Wall Street or were nearing retirement. That seems to be changing.

Today, many Wall Streeters decamping for dormitory life are in their mid-40s and are leaving top jobs at their firms. Even in an industry where early retirement is common, Fleming and other bankers are likely walking away from seven-figure paychecks. Undoubtedly, too, some will return.

"You get a tiny office, none of your colleagues talk to you for a while, and you have to figure out what to say to students for 36 hours a semester," says Roy Smith, who left Goldman 21 years ago to become a professor at New York University. "It's hard work for little pay."

Of course, the Wall Street professionals are also leaving behind the most uncertain time in finance in their careers. The credit crunch has effectively shuttered a number of markets and put a halt to most mergers, leaving some on Wall Street with little to do. What's more, in the past year, financial professionals have gone from masters of the universe to subjects of ridicule. That makes now a good time to switch to a profession that seems more beneficial to society, even to Wall Streeters.

John Chrin, a Lehigh University alum, says the dean of Lehigh's business school approached him late last year to find out if Chrin knew of any Wall Streeters looking for a new career. The dean wanted to expose the students to someone with real-world finance experience at a time when the financial markets seemed more confused than ever. Chrin had just completed one of the most notable acquisitions of his career, advising his firm, JPMorgan Chase, on the purchase of Bear Stearns. In mid-January, Chrin called the dean to say he had found someone: himself.

Chrin will be leaving the bank on June 15 and begin teaching full-time at Lehigh starting in the fall. "The country is in bad shape right now, and if I can help some students, that will make me feel good," says Chrin. "I can offer them a real-world perspective to what happens in the boardroom."

See TIME's Pictures of the Week.

See the Cartoons of the Week.