STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The downturn in the financial services industry left tens of thousands of people without jobs on Wall Street. Many were highly paid analysts, traders, or investment bankers. Now they start over. NPR's Jim Zarroli found out how some are rebuilding their lives.
(Soundbite of moving boxes)
JIM ZARROLI: Steven Chen(ph) pushes some boxes around his tiny Manhattan office looking for a place to sit, and he perches on the edge of a desk and takes out a pair of dark rubber sandals.
Mr. STEVEN CHEN (Partner, Green Sole Shoes): So we have here a 100 percent recycled post-consumer use tire sandal.
ZARROLI: You say tire sandals. So these are made out of tires.
Mr. CHEN: That's right. So you take a…
ZARROLI: Chen is a partner at a company called Green Sole Shoes. He's just 26, scrupulously polite, though he stops to look at his Blackberry every chance he gets. Chen grew up in the Bronx, a math whiz who went to Brown. He later landed a job at Bear Stearns. He loved the intense competition of the place and he would've stayed. But then one weekend last year Bear Stearns collapsed.
Mr. CHEN: So it was sort of a wake-up call for me personally. We were always known as the folks that worked twice as hard and put in twice as many hours as other investment banks. And so it was sad to see a really great institution falter like that.
ZARROLI: Chen could've looked for another job on Wall Street, but fate intervened. He ran into a friend, Iris Chow(ph), who had just lost her job at JP Morgan Chase after 11 years. Chow says when you lose a job you go through a kind of emotional shift.
Ms. IRISH CHOW (Partner, Green Sole Shoes): It's really interesting because you finally get a chance to like to stop, almost like stopping time and sit down and figuring out what is your passions and what you want to do in the next 10 years from now.
ZARROLI: What she and Chen decided to do was start a business. The idea came from Chau's husband, Alastair Ong, who'd recently visited Manila and toured the city's notorious dumps, where old tires are stacked as far as the eye can see. Ong thought why not hire local residents to collect the rubber so it can be recycled and made into shoes.
A little more than a year later, Green Soles sells a line of sandals over the Internet. They hope to sell a million pairs of shoes a year by 2014.
For Chau and Chen, the world of entrepreneurship has taken some getting used to. Chow says at JP Morgan Chase she had a huge corporation with vast resources to support her. Now it's just the three of them doing everything.
Then there's money. No more fat Wall Street bonuses.
Mr. CHEN: We aren't currently paying ourselves.
ZARROLI: And how long can you keep earning nothing?
Mr. CHEN: Well, you know, like, I've been pretty savvy with how much I've saved, which means I should be able - I should be fine for a while, by a while I mean probably like six, eight months.
ZARROLI: But the potential rewards are huge and not just in the monetary sense. At JP Morgan Chase, Chow helped design software that would be used by analysts to write research reports to be used by salespeople to help them close deals. She felt far removed from the product's end result.
Now she's making shoes you can touch and hold, shoes she and her partners hope other people will want to wear. Still, she knows that new businesses are notoriously prone to failure, and even the best laid plans can fall apart. It's a lesson Rachel Hoey(ph) could teach her.
Ms. RACHEL HOEY (Entrepreneur): Here it is. It was formally a cosmetics store.
ZARROLI: Hoey unlocks the door of an empty store she's leased near the train station in Darien, Connecticut. This is where she hopes to open her first coffee shop this summer. As excited as she is, things haven't turned out exactly as she and her husband planned. They figured Will would quit his job at Goldman Sachs to start a business with his brother and Rachel would support them with her job as a hedge fund analyst.
Ms. HOEY: I was to have the stable job, the stable income, which now is just laughable thinking about the fact that I was working at a hedge fund and we thought that was stable.
ZARROLI: Last Halloween, Rachel lost her job. Now both are starting new businesses at the same time. Will has a toy company called tegu.com that sells magnetized building blocks. And Rachel has this coffee shop. Neither expects to make money any time soon. Will says they've had to scale way back on expenses.
Mr. WILL HOEY: I'm a capitalist at heart and I believe in the power of the market, and you know, we sort of had to come to terms with accepting unemployment insurance, but the truth is that it's really serving its purpose. It's giving us the breathing room to actually take a chance, to do the homework, to do the research, and to prepare for something that we might not have otherwise been able to do.
ZARROLI: Will says this part of Connecticut has been walloped by the recession and people regularly tell them they're crazy to launch businesses now. And yet they don't seem to have any regrets.
Mr. HOEY: We're young, we're sort of 27, and you're 26, right?
Ms. HOEY: Right.
Mr. HOEY: You know, and we sort of felt like we had plenty of time to face the worst case scenario of failure, entrepreneurial failure, and you know, kind of happily move on from that having had some good experiences.
ZARROLI: Will says he keeps in touch with his old friends at Goldman Sachs and sometimes misses his job there. But like a lot of people, the Hoeys are trying to look forward, not back. Wall Street has turned a page, and so too must they.
Jim Zarroli, NPR News.