Make us your home page

Former WaMu employee calm amid bank's collapse

TAMPA — On the ninth floor of an office building on Cypress Street last week, Brad Robinson looked out across a sea of vacant desks and a deserted fish bowl and framed ads talking about company trust.

"There was a person there," Robinson said. "Person there. Three or four there. Person there. Person there."

Only he was left, the last man standing in Suite 950-A, once home to a thriving commercial real estate lending division of Washington Mutual. Now, it's just another wasteland after the largest bank failure in American history.

But in an industry full of panic, Robinson, a former senior loan consultant who made $200,000 last year, managed calm. True, he never expected WaMu to sink like Enron, and he lost company stock once worth as much as $75,000.

But having been laid off twice before by Washington Mutual, he had already learned valuable lessons about trust and loyalty and job security. It made him, perhaps, more prepared to handle the latest hit than so many executives and workers in his field.

Unlike earlier generations, Robinson, 38, never counted on a long career with one company, even Fortune 500 companies that have been around for 119 years.

To Robinson, WaMu's future seemed as safe as a savings account. It had a long, storied history, having given out the first home loan ever in 1890 and more than $150-billion in home loans in 2006.

During the Great Depression, the bank didn't shrink but grew, buying up another distressed bank. Earlier this year, Robinson heard the chief operating officer and president reassure employees on a conference call that the company would be profitable in 2009.

Robinson, though, didn't rely on predictions but his own experiences, which kept him living below his means.

His shaved head and lean, muscular physique from working out five days a week gave him an economical look of efficiency.

He saw lean and fat times at home, growing up the son of a home builder and Realtor. He drove a 1996 Volkswagen Jetta for most of his career and still wears an affordable Fossil brand watch bought years ago. He flies coach and doesn't own a television.

By his own account, he's a simple man, but his lifestyle was also shaped by his employment at WaMu.

He was first laid off by the company as a registered assistant to stock brokers when the bank stopped selling stocks and bonds and eliminated his department.

The second time, the company closed his commercial real estate underwriting department — which seemed secure one floor below the CEO — because it duplicated the work of another department.

The third time came after the company collapsed last month, leaving him nothing but a thick, glass award on his filing cabinet reminding him that he made $68-million in loans in 2005.

"You take the good with the bad," he said, squeezing a pink piggy bank-shaped stress reliever between his palms sitting behind the office desk he was cleaning out.

He said he has saved enough money to last a full year and could dip into his 401(k) if necessary.

He is single without children and rents out his Fort Lauderdale condominium. He lives in a Tampa apartment, has no credit card debt and pays off bills immediately.

"No matter what happens with the economy," he said, "you make your own destiny."

He only recently sold his Jetta after years of ribbing from colleagues and bosses over driving something that didn't match his moneyed line of work.

He saw no reason to get rid of it since it ran great and attracted little attention when he visited properties in rough neighborhoods. He parked it out of sight and arrived early if he had to meet clients.

But eventually he caved and bought a metallic gray BMW 335 coupe two years ago.

He saved thousands of dollars by picking it up at the Munich, Germany, delivery center through an obscure purchasing method dealers don't disclose. He paid cash.

For the next few months, Robinson plans to travel to Asia and South America before he returns to job hunt. He doesn't think he'll land a financial job because of the economy and is strongly considering bartending, which seems to have a solid future given the sobering times and the many who could use a drink.

But he's confident he'll be okay, a resilient outlook earned from having been here before. All told, he's been laid off four times now.

"I know eventually I'll be on my feet," he said. "It's like losing your car at the mall. You know eventually you'll find your car. But in the short term, you got to make it like anybody else."

Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or

Former WaMu employee calm amid bank's collapse 10/12/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 14, 2008 12:04pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Report slams Pinellas construction licensing agency and leaders

    Local Government

    LARGO — The Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board mismanaged its finances, lacked accountability and disregarded its own rules, according to a scathing report released Wednesday by the county's inspector general.

    Rodney Fischer, the executive director of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board, resigned in January.  [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  2. A meatless burger that tastes like meat? Ciccio Restaurants will serve the Impossible Burger.

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA — The most red-hot hamburger in the nation right now contains no meat.

    Ciccio executive chef Luis Flores prepares an Impossible Burger Wednesday at the Epicurean Hotel Food Theatre in Tampa.
  3. Construction starts on USF medical school, the first piece of Tampa's Water Street project


    TAMPA — Dozens of workers in hard hats and boots were busy at work at the corner of South Meridian Avenue and Channelside Drive Wednesday morning, signaling the start of construction on the University of South Florida's new Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute.

    Construction is underway for the new Morsani College of Medicine and USF Health Heart Institute in downtown Tampa. This view is from atop Amalie Arena, where local officials gathered Wednesday to celebrate the first piece of what will be the new Water Street District. The USF building is expected to open in late 2019. [ALESSANDRA DA PRA  |   Times]
  4. Tampa Bay among top 25 metro areas with fastest growing economies

    Economic Development

    Tampa Bay had the 24th fastest growing economy among 382 metro areas in the country for 2016. According to an analysis by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Tampa Bay's gross domestic product, or GDP, increased 4.2 percent from 2015 to 2016 to hit $126.2 billion.

    Tampa Bay had the 24th fastest growing economy in the country for 2016. Rentals were one of the areas that contributed to Tampa Bay's GDP growth. Pictured is attorney David Eaton in front of his rental home. 
  5. Tampa Bay cools down to more moderate home price increases

    Real Estate

    The increase in home prices throughout much of the Tampa Bay area is definitely slowing from the torrid rate a year ago.

    This home close to Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa sold for $3.055 million in August, making it Hillsborough County's top sale of the month. [Courtesy of Bredt Cobitz]