Five years ago, Lynn Gray was a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. When the firm collapsed, she had no idea what was next.
"I had three big strikes against me to finding another job," said Gray. "I was a woman. I was 59. And my career at Lehman focused primarily on commercial real estate. Who was going to hire me?"
Gray had spent 30 years in investment banking, 11 of those at Lehman, where she moved up the ladder from senior vice president to chief administrative officer of the firm's global real estate group.
Bad bets on housing and commercial real estate were a big part of Lehman's collapse. Gray said she was well aware that the industry was in turmoil when "we stopped originating loans a year before Lehman blew up."
Still, she never thought Lehman would cease to exist.
"Honestly, I expected that some day they would wheel me out of there at a ripe old age," said Gray.
Instead, she lost a six-figure income and feared that her retirement savings were at risk. "I had a lot at stake financially and in other ways," she said. "I had many friends at Lehman and we had become a family."
But as a single mom with a daughter in college, Gray had to get back on her feet quickly. Her 10-month severance pay from Lehman would go fast.
"I've always been a champion of women-owned businesses," said Gray. "I know how to network. I know how to do deals. So I thought, 'Why not become an entrepreneur?'"
In early 2009, New York City launched a program called FastTrac to train those who had lost jobs in financial services to start new businesses. Gray applied and got a spot in the three-week bootcamp where she learned about marketing, financing for startups, social media and other tools to help start her business.
In April 2009, Gray launched Campus Scout, a college recruiting service for employers. Her former work at Lehman sparked the idea. "I had done a lot of entry-level recruiting while at Lehman, and I developed a passion for it," she said.
She invested $10,000 to get her website up and running, hire a lawyer and file for trademark registration.
Gray used her network of former Lehman colleagues and friends to get the word out about her new venture. When a Europe-based brokerage firm was looking for entry-level employees, the firm's HR representative -- a former Lehman employee -- gave her the job.
Gray also worked hard to build up a new network through industry conventions.
"I'd download names of people and companies that were attending and I'd reach out to them," said Gray. "I told them I was a Lehman casualty and that I'd love to buy them coffee and tell them about my new gig."
She locked in her first client in January 2010, and in the last three years, Gray said she's built a roster of clients that include real estate companies, brokerages and banks. She works alone out of a home office, generates about $150,000 a year in revenue and is profitable.
The job requires a lot of travel -- for one of her new clients, Gray will conduct interviews at 12 campuses this fall -- but despite constantly being on the go, Gray said she's energized.
"I'm 63, although I don't feel it at all," she said. "After a very long career in the law and investment banking, and some very scary times as an old new entrepreneur, I am happier professionally than I have ever been."