Ex-Banker Wants You to Trade Wall Street ‘Misery’ for Mongolia

Escape the City Co-Founders Pose
From left, Mike Howe, Rob Symington and Dom Jackman, founders of Escape the City, pose for a photograph. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Former Merrill Lynch & Co. banker Mike Howe is moving to New York to help bored finance workers escape Wall Street for far-flung jobs and adventures, from Mongolian venture capital to African charities.

The 26-year-old former money manager is opening U.K. startup recruitment website Escape the City Ltd. in the U.S. next month. The company has attracted more than 30,000 members since founders Rob Symington, 27, and Dom Jackman, 28, quit consulting firm Ernst & Young in 2009.

“Escape the City was created specifically to help talented people escape from unfulfilling corporate jobs after we realized that our own feelings of misery and frustration at work were shared by a lot of people,” Symington said in an interview in London. “We stumbled upon a business opportunity by following a hunch about job dissatisfaction to its logical conclusion.”

London’s financial services industry employs 318,000, still 10 percent below the 2007 peak, and growth since has been slow, according to the Centre for Economics & Business Research Ltd. Bankers’ bonuses have been taxed and restricted by politicians since Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc and Lloyds Banking Group Plc took taxpayer bailouts in 2008.

“I don’t think I’ve ever met more people who are highly trained and unhappy in banking -- except when it comes to the money,” said Peter Hahn, 53, a former Citigroup Inc. banker who lectures on finance at London’s Cass Business School. The site “will probably appeal to people who have paid off financial liabilities like student debt and haven’t settled down yet to family life. It’s a sizeable but niche group,” he said.

Adventure and Enterprise

Escape the City advertises jobs that meet its criteria of adventure and enterprise, Symington said. The company, which earned a profit in its first year, spreads the word with weekly e-mails of jobs from Indian microfinance to Moroccan surf camps, and evening events where adventurers regale crowds with tales of skateboarding across Australia or cycling around the world.

“The City trains you up and gives you exposure,” Symington said. “What’s wrong with it is it felt like the work we did -- crunching spreadsheets -- just didn’t matter to anyone, including to our customers or employers.”

Harry Minter left his job at hedge fund Headstart Advisers Ltd. to manage the Guludo beach lodge in Mozambique after discovering the job posted on Escape the City. Will Tindall found a job as chief communications officer of Asia Pacific Investment Partners, which invests in companies in Mongolia. He hired a chief operating officer through the site this year and is advertising for a chief financial officer.

‘Real Alternatives’

“The people who look at Escape the City are typically entrepreneurial and want to do something out of the norm,” Tindall, 28, said in an interview. “Mongolia isn’t the easiest place to operate.”

Escape the City could be “very successful” in the U.S., said Pamela Slim, the Arizona-based author of “Escape from Cubicle Nation: From Corporate Prisoner to Thriving Entrepreneur.”

“People are looking for more meaningful work and Escape the City provides real, actual alternatives,” said Slim, who previously worked for Barclays Global Investors and has advised companies including Hewlett-Packard Co. on management.

Former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. trader Frank Yeung, 26, quit after getting his bonus in January 2009 to start Poncho No. 8, a burrito bar in London’s East End. He’s considering hiring through Escape the City.

“The people they attract are educated and intelligent and want something more out of their working lives,” Yeung said. “There is more and more disillusion with the traditional corporate world.”

Wealth Manager

Howe quit Merrill Lynch in London earlier this year after four years at the company, where he saw four different chief executive officers and worked through the company’s 2008 takeover by Bank of America Corp. Howe invested money for wealthy individuals.

The Englishman, who lived in New York as a child, said he grew tired of working for a large company. Now he wants others to follow in his footsteps.

“The American way of thinking is very entrepreneurial so I think the upside could be huge,” he said. “There’s so much support for entrepreneurs in the U.S.”

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