Down But Not Out: From Hedge Funds to Pizza Delivery

Photo: Ken Karpman went from making $750,000 as an institutional equity sales trader a year to delivering pizzas for $7.29 an hour.

For the first 45 years of Ken Karpman's life, everything was close to perfect.

He graduated from UCLA with a bachelor's degree and M.B.A., then got a high-paying job as an institutional equity sales trader. He married his dream girl, had two children and traveled the world on expensive vacations.

Over the span of Karpman's impressive 20-year career as a trader, he climbed the company ladder, reaching a salary of $750,000 a year.

VIDEO: From Hedge Funds to Pizza Delivery

"Life was good, we were making a lot of money -- and why wouldn't this just continue on?" Karpman said.

From all appearances, Ken and Stephanie Karpman were living the American dream in Tampa, Fla., nestled in their 4,000-square-foot home that sits on a golf course. "I had no idea what anything cost in a store," he said. "I'd just put it in the cart and buy."

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VIDEO: From CEO to Delivering Pizza

Karpman was so confident in his good fortune and the strong economy that he left his job in 2005 to start his own hedge fund. To pay for the new business and their standard of living, Karpman quickly burned through $500,000 in savings and, like so many Americans, took a line of credit against his house.

But in the reversal of fortune that followed, Karpman was unable to attract investors and was forced to dissolve his hedge fund. He found himself jobless in a job market that had collapsed.

In the past, Karpman had found it easy to get a job. It wasn't so this time around.

"When I used to go into a job interview, I probably came across as a jerk because I was like interviewing him to see whether this firm was worthy of me," he said. "Now it's kind of like you almost feel like you're coming in with your hat in your hand."

Turning to Pizza for Help

After a lengthy and fruitless job search, the Karpmans were shocked to find themselves in financial dire straits, with zero savings, hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and their home in foreclosure.

Desperate for quick cash, Karpman tried to find a job bartending but came up empty. Finally, he drove his Mercedes to Mike's Pizza & Deli Station in Clearwater and applied for a job. Mike Dodaro, the owner of the pizza shop, said he was shocked when he read his application but he offered him the job despite some reluctance to hire an over-qualified candidate.

Stephanie Karpman said she was more than a little surprised when he came home with his new job, initially saying, "You're kidding me, right?

"Delivering pizzas," she said, "Never in my wildest dreams did I think he'd be doing that."

Karpman's salary plummeted from six figures to $7.29 an hour -- plus tips -- but it's money that he's grateful to earn, even when it means delivering to neighbors or his old office building.

"This whole progression down, it's amazing how many things you say, 'I can't do' and a week later you say, 'Yeah, I could do that,'" he said. "I'm not going to make a career out of this but, until I get something that pays more, this is what I'll do to keep food on the table."

The stress has also taken a toll on their marriage. Stephanie Karpman said she didn't want her husband to leave his trader job in the first place and wishes he would have put more in savings.

"There's no question of where the fault lies," Ken Karpman said. And when it comes to finger-pointing, "I point it in my direction.

"If we didn't have to worry about the lights getting turned off, we can spend more time talking about us."

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