I survived Lehman, I got culture shock at Nomura, I quit Merrill, and now I design swimwear
Lyn Sia Rosmarin was only in her 30s when she quit banking, but she’d already been through a lot in her career – from moving countries, to working at Lehman Brothers when it collapsed, to suddenly dealing with a strange new culture at Nomura.
Rosmarin is now at the helm of her own ‘Asian-inspired’ luxury swimwear company in Singapore, K.BLU, and says she couldn’t be happier to have left the pressure and politics of banking behind.
While her early career was largely spent at French bank Natixis in Singapore, Rosmarin moved to Hong Kong in 2008 to join Lehman Brothers, covering foreign exchange. “I had an FX background already and Lehman had a shortage of associates in that area, so I was handed a big North Asian portfolio,” says Rosmarin. "It was a step up, as I was working at a massive US bank in a more dynamic environment."
At the time, Lehman was also making a push in FX. We became a bigger player – there were only 25 people in the team when I joined, but that peaked at 50,” says Rosmarin. "And generally working in banking in Hong Kong was very different to now – most IBs were still looking to grow. It was an exciting time to be there.”
Two years after she arrived in Hong Kong, however, Rosmarin’s job became altogether more stressful. “Leading up to the Lehman collapse, we had to put on a good face to our customers, letting them know our strengths and why we weren’t failing," she said. "And we had to convince other banks to keep trading with us. It was very tough, because management told us a few basic talking-points, but we weren’t actually 100% sure what was really going on with the bank.”
The first time Rosmarin heard that her employer had collapsed was when she saw it on the TV news. “Right until the end even our managers didn’t know what was happening. It was a huge shock – and there were only a few FX jobs in the market in Hong Kong. In the end we were lucky that when Nomura bought the business they kept about 60% to 70% of the team.”
Cultural clash at Nomura
Adjusting to the new bank wasn’t entirely straight forward. “The Japanese have a different way of doing things – back then they still used 1980s-style time stamps for transaction sheets, for example. The Lehman office was far more high-tech and there was a cultural clash at first. They didn’t understand how we worked.”
Rosmarin says at the time Nomura also seemed “biased against women”. “It’s not like that any more; things have improved a lot, but back then there were fewer women in senior positions. It appeared to be harder for them to get to the top.”
Soon, however, she started to enjoy the job more. “There used to be a lot of negative perceptions against Nomura in Hong Kong – people wouldn’t broke with us because they perceived us as backward. But management made changes – things like making it faster to open accounts. We became more competitive, we introduced new products and we went from nobody to somebody.”
In 2011 Rosmarin joined Merrill Lynch in Singapore, moving from VP to director in the process, but around 18 months later she decided to leave banking for good. “I was fed up of the politics in banking and having to write hundreds of emails just to get my point of view across. I’d learnt that a job is just a job and nothing is guaranteed – some of the people let go at Lehman had been there for 30 years. These days more banking professionals under 40 in Asia have accumulated enough wealth to leave – they don’t want to risk losing their sanity by staying in banking.”
From banking to fashion
So why set up a swimwear fashion company instead of going down the more typical post-banking career path – fintech? “I’d always been active in sailing and swimming, but often the choices of swimwear on offer weren’t very fashionable – they were either too sporty or too sexy for my needs. Plus almost all of them were the wrong shape for Asian women.”
Rosmarin says she spent a whole year researching before launching her Singapore-based business. “I don’t have a design background, so I worked with factories in China to develop initial designs. I worked on every stage of the process with them – drawings, pattern making, sewing, printing...I also sourced the right fabrics from Italy and I focused on getting the quality right.”
As the designs took shape, Rosmarin says her banking background gave her a good grasp on budgeting and forecasting. “I made a lot of rookie mistakes, but I had a five-year plan for the company right from the start."
K.BLU’s collections – which boast names like Sleek Sprinter Plus and Precious Porcelain – were at first only sold online and at shopping centres in Singapore, but Rosmarin is now expanding overseas and has stockists in the US and Indonesia. “The market for fashion-focused swimwear in emerging Asia is growing and largely untapped – I now sell in malls in Indonesia, which even three years ago was unheard of. Asian women are enjoying more holidays, relaxing more, and they aren’t so afraid of the sun and showing off their bodies. More women want to make a fashion statement with their swimwear, post a pic on Instagram which says, ‘look at me, I’m at a wonderful resort and I’m looking great in a beautiful swimsuit’.”
Image credit: Sophie_James, iStock, ThinkStock