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Brains alone won’t cut it. There are lots of people in business who achieved top grades in school and are able to effortlessly solve a medium to hard level Sudoku puzzle in under five minutes. And that’s before they’ve even had their morning coffee. Family connections won’t guarantee success, either. How many people do you know of privileged birth who’ve got influential relatives and friends, yet, despite their personal network, achieve very little? Exactly. That’s because there’s more to success than brains and contacts. Having those two things on your side is without a question a big plus. But becoming a successful dealmaker requires more.

The journey a dealmaker embarks on is tantamount to climbing a mountain. One that is characteristically unforgiving and cruel. Whose ascent will take a long, long time. Where hairpin bends are the norm, not the exception. And where pitfalls and traps surprise you all along the way, like in an Indiana Jones flick. He or she will not only be prone to regular setbacks but unenviable danger, especially the closer they get to the top. In view of this harsh reality, a brave soul will need more than a fortune cookie message to keep them going. To help counter the doubts that inevitably creep in as the days pass.

They’ll need passion. (Mine is dealmaking)

Its presence in those who defy the odds and make big things happen is unmistakable; its absence in those who fail to do so unsurprising.

Oh, and it matters equally to entrepreneurs, actors, artists, screenwriters and teachers.

Just what you need when the going gets tough

Passion encourages you to pursue a new deal after the last one fell through because of forces beyond your control. To launch a new business after the previous one crashed ingloriously; or to write a new film script after your last one was rejected by every agent from LA to London.

Recently, a deal I worked on for over seven months fell through at the eleventh hour as a result of the UK Referendum vote. The sting was particularly acute because the sum (i.e. Success Fee) I expected to receive was large enough to buy an apartment with. A very nice one. In London, New York or Mumbai. Cash. So when this sort of event happens, it has a way of chipping away at your morale. And in the world of high finance, deals always fall through. It’s an understanding you harbour, knowing that the next deal you work on will, again, require a large time commitment and may, again, fall through for any of a number of reasons. But you persist. You crack on, as it were.

Passion motivates you to get up after you fall, as Alfred repeatedly tells Bruce Wayne.

As for me and my deal, I picked myself up, shed a few tears in hiding and then moved on to the next deal.

Where did the romance go?

Importantly, passion also helps you persist when early excitement fades. After all, isn’t coming up with ideas the fun part? In business, that early phase is often considered the honeymoon period, after which the real work begins. Let’s face it, everyone has ideas. Implementing one is the difficult part.

An individual I know, who runs one of the most popular film festivals in the world, once told me, “I’ve seen thousands of filmmakers come through our doors and there’s one thing that unites the ultra-successful ones who’ve managed to keep producing great entertainment over the years: passion.” One of the people he was referring to made the Batman Trilogy.

Like perfume

Passion is like an avalanche. Nothing stands in its way. And you know when it’s happening in front of you.

You’ve got to be passionate about what you set out to accomplish. Excited when talking to others about it. So much so that a listener’s eyes will grow wide in amazement when you’re in your element.

Passion exudes a palpable energy. One can almost taste it.

Think of Richard Branson, Steven Spielberg and George Soros. They’re not simply ‘interested’ in entrepreneurship, film or finance, respectively. What they do consumes them. It defines them. [READ MORE…]

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Savoy8.6.2016 copy

It was a rainy London afternoon. Alex Shiraz placed the official letter on the mahogany table between himself and Norman and sat back in his chair. He wasn’t in the mood to read its contents, let alone comment on the changes his lawyer had made to increase the severity of the notice. Alex had far too much on his mind to preoccupy himself with the despicable actions of a conniving crook. Someone he once thought could potentially become a proper client.

Alex loathed cheats. The business of high finance, however, was replete with them and he’d met his fair share of miscreants. He momentarily focused on a framed picture on Norman’s desk. A black and white family photo. Norman, his wife and three daughters smiling into the camera. The background suggested Oman but Alex wasn’t certain.

“What’s going on?” said Norman. “Don’t you want to read it?”

“Let’s put it on hold,” said Alex.

Norman looked at Alex with surprise but didn’t put up a struggle. He saw the expression of sheer exhaustion in Alex’s eyes.

“That’s fine. You’ve got plenty of time to sue the bastard.”

The Savoy Hotel (two weeks prior)

Alex knew that £200,000 was the best he could get – below the £350,000 he was owed. He thought about it again and accepted the loss. The alternative was taking Daniel to court and that’s not a path he was eager to take, even though he had threateningly voiced the possibility. Were the sum a little higher, perhaps. But he had too much going on at the time and a law suit brought with it far too much negative energy.

Alex extended his arm out. The coffee marks near the bottom of the porcelain cup next to him looked sinister and the remaining drops of white coffee curdled into ugly clouds that, to his gaze and with the natural light that pierced through the glass dome in the Savoy Hotel foyer, foreshadowed trouble. Yet Alex chose to be optimistic. His belief in a favourable outcome, perhaps a bit naive, subdued all negative thoughts.

Their hands met over the table right above a half-eaten plate of scrambled eggs and avocado on brown toast. Alex had little appetite that morning.

He accepted Daniel’s unsteady handshake as guarantee, even though the tenuous grip said otherwise and the perfunctory smile on his face disappeared just as quickly as it formed below the pencil moustache Alex had come to detest.

Alex sat back in his chair, ran his fingers through his hair, bit his lower lip and, without hesitation, firmly addressed the man sitting across from him.

“I hope this matter will finally be resolved.”

“Of course,” said Daniel blankly. “We shook on it.”

There was nothing more to be said. Alex stood up, thanked Daniel for breakfast and left the table. He stepped out of the hotel and opened his umbrella before emerging from the covered entrance into a downpour. He walked onto the Strand and then in the direction of Covent Garden.

Daniel had no intention of paying. [READ MORE…]

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Job hop and survive

Gone are the days of one-job-for-life. That phenomenon is a thing of the past.

Once upon a time being a job hopper was a grave sin and made if insurmountably difficult for you to land a new job. From the moment you sat in front of a prospective employer you were on the defensive against accusations of infidelity. Until recently it was a scarlet letter of sorts. But times have changed.

You can now job hop and more than just survive doing it. Well executed, a job change will enable you to obtain a more senior position (maybe even skip over one) and also get paid a heck of a lot more money.

A guy I knew did just that. The day he showed up at our bank it was to assume his third job in five years.

Adam (not real name)

Adam once held an Associate IBD role within an investment bank. Though he was paid well and worked for a leading bank, his ambition led him to jump to the buy-side where he joined a blue-chip private equity firm. On an exceptional package. Then, having barely memorised the password to his new workplace computer, he sought out his next move, which not long after landed him on the doorstep of my bank with a compensation package whose size could only be surpassed by that of his smile.

With each move Adam skipped a position and negotiated a more enormous pay package. Not bad, right?

Don’t be fooled, his path was anomalous. It would be challenging to replicate what he did. The reason being that his geographic expertise became fashionable almost overnight, making him highly “in demand” within the banking community. The timing was perfect.

It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider job hopping. You just need to make a calculated decision.

So if you’ve decided it’s time to jump ship or have simply started thinking about it, then consider these 5 things first.

1. The right reasons

Are you changing jobs because you can’t stand your current one or because a great opportunity has presented itself and it’s just right. Think about it carefully.

You need to have good reasons for moving.

Changing jobs isn’t easy. It’s emotionally draining. You need to make new friends, get used to new routines. Establish new ties and win the approval of new people – not easy in shark-infested waters. Don’t underestimate the politics of banking.

So make sure the change fits with your long-term objective.

2. Speak to your mentor

If you don’t have one then you’re missing out and I would advise you find one fast. And not your line manager. You want someone who isn’t directly dependent on your output. Find someone senior at the bank who, preferably, has a great deal of clout. You want to turn this person into an uncle or aunt figure. That way you can share your personal ambitions with them and know they’ll give you the best advice, whether it’s what you want to hear or not. [READ MORE…]

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mountstreet

“Jargon cloaks what is in reality a very simple business of being an intermediary. Boiled down to its very essence, a big City investment banker’s role isn’t so different from that of a middleman selling goods in a Middle Eastern bazaar. He or she helps a carpet shop owner sell carpets to a customer and takes a cut. The middleman then drinks some fresh mint tea with the owner to celebrate and walks along to the jewellery shop a few doors down to repeat the process with some gold necklaces.”

– A.N. Oveissi, The ibanker and the Golden Cage

A banker is a middleman who benefits when parties it purposely sandwiches itself in-between decide to do business. Think of your friendly next door IBD guy as cupid: he gets paid when two individuals kick it off and jump into bed. Is the banker therefore not highly incentivised to dress both parties nicely, light a candle, play sensual music and make sure the mood is just right? In banking, the more matches are made the bigger the bonus at the end of the year. Consequently, the animal that is the banker is ceaselessly matchmaking.

While it may sound appealing you should note that the pressure is enormous, particularly for junior banker who are responsible for the majority of the work – that ends up making senior bankers rich.

So if you’re able to make a jump into a Family Office (FO) then I would consider it. One cannot say which is better, working in banking or for an FO. But, having worked in both, I can list three things that made conditions in a FO significantly more enjoyable for me.

Better lifestyle and less stress

The first thing I noticed when I walked into the FO – an English one worth a few billion pounds – was the relaxed atmosphere of the place. Coming from a bank, I was hardwired to work without a moment’s respite, but people would say to me, “Take it easy, this isn’t a bank.”

The key difference being that the FO didn’t need to constantly beg clients to do deals in order to collect fees. They already had money – plenty of it. Don’t get me wrong, people there were hungry for more business; but they were much more laid back. That made all the difference.

Being in a position to patiently eye the market for the best opportunities to invest in is a completely different starting point than that of a banker who is given a spear and half a day to catch prey or face being slaughtered. [READ MORE…]

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Alettertoanalystslosize

Survival is defined as the condition of continuing to live, usually despite challenging circumstances. And challenging they are for the underprivileged caste of initiates embarking on a journey of financial wizardry. For theirs, is a path beset with veiled violence, false hopes and some level of hair-loss.

Recently, I came across a very stimulating quote from the American author Louis L’Amour. It read: “Knowledge is like money and to be of value must circulate.” That got me thinking. If I fail to share my knowledge then, true, I will remain sole shareholder of it; but it will be an insignificant shareholding. Similar to an idea, I suppose. Ideas have no value. That is, until they’re put to work.

The words of the late novelist moved me.

I am now compelled to do something about it.

Lest the little I know falls anymore in value, I have decided to share a few words with incoming classes of investment banking analysts the world over. May it offer them a lifeline in times of need and desperation. Alas, times they will unquestionably face.

—————-

To my yet unblemished young soul,

The world around us is replete with words of advice related to the workplace. Throughout your short yet dignified life you have no doubt been advised to maintain a healthy diet, remain physically active and to make time to see friends and family. A wiry friend of yours of an earthy predisposition may have even convinced you to practice yoga in an unusually sultry room. I am afraid my advice will bear little resemblance to anything you’ve heard thus far.

What I present to you, below, is based on knowledge of the actions of great bankers, whom I have closely watched over the years. Here, I have done my utmost best to encapsulate the best of their strategies and cunning methods into a concise and digestible list.

What qualifies me to write this short piece, you may ask yourself. Firstly, I have breathed, fought and eaten in the den of financial gladiators. I have stood in the arena shoulder to shoulder with fellow bankers, many of whom perished early in their careers and went on to practice lesser arts. During that time I carefully observed the most senior and influential members of the audience above, in order to discern their tastes and motivations. Do not forget, it is they who bestow upon you the gift of life, death and the bonus. Secondly, I have also sat in the stands, from where I attentively watched gladiators below. During my observations, common traits emerged amongst the superior class of men and women who battled in the den. Those who became victors. Masters of the game whose every step riches followed.

Your time in a bank is short. And will likely end just as you begin to truly appreciate the tricks of the trade. What use will that knowledge be to you when you are no longer a banker? Therefore, please accept this humble offering. That it may afford you the advantage of hindsight I have gained.

What follows are guiding principles you should always keep in the back of your mind. They will not make your stay in a bank comfortable or pleasant – such miracles are the subject of schoolchild fantasies. They will, however, help you survive. [READ MORE…]

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IMG_0387It was a cold and early December morning in London without the slightest trace of sun visible anywhere. Yet I was in a particularly jovial mood. Briskly walking through Primrose Hill, I was on a mission to attend an early morning session of Fierce Grace Yoga. To top it off, I was listening to a song I’d just downloaded on the back of a recommendation from a friend backpacking across Cambodia: Porto – Worakls.

I arrived at the studio, undressed, put on a pair of shorts and, just as I was about to put my phone on silent and step into class, I received a call. It was Martin, the CEO of a real estate company I advise. Hmm. Shall I answer, I wondered. Class was minutes away from starting and I always liked to step in a little early to get a good spot and take a few minutes to settle in. I’ll make it quick.

“Hi Martin.”

“Hello ibanker. You well?

“Not too bad and you?”

“Fine. I can’t chat long…”

Thank God.

“Can you meet for lunch at 1pm today?”

“One sec,” I responded, before inspecting my calendar. The existing appointment was with a friend and of a personal nature. He won’t mind if I reschedule. “Sure. Where shall we meet?”

“Grosvenor Square. We can walk over to a restaurant nearby.”

“Done.” Wait, what’s this even about? “What are we discussing exactly?”

“Real estate…and birdshit.”

Birdshit? “Birdshit?”

“That’s right. Birdshit. See you later.”

Duke of Westminster’s Square

Grosvenor Square is quite the landmark in Mayfair. Home to the US Embassy (until it moves to its new location in Nine Elms), hedge funds, family offices, stupefying real estate (e.g. 20 Grosvenor Square) and more. Belonging to the Duke of Westminster, there are worse places to meet.

I arrived on the scene to find Martin sitting on a bench, reading a copy of Property Week.

“There’s an Italian on North Audley Street. That okay with you?”

“Perfect,” I said.

We walked over and entered the establishment. No more than three seconds passed before a young Italian man appeared out of thin air with a charming smile. He showed us to our seat and we were handed menus. I’m starved. We took a minute to review the menu and called the Italian over again.

“What will you gentlemen have?”

Martin motioned me to proceed.

“I’ll have the Tagliatelle Alla Catalana,” I said.

“And I’ll have the Risotto Allo Scoglio,” said Martin.

“Antipasti?”

“No thank you, ” Martin and I replied in unison.

“And to drink?” said the waiter.

“Water?” Martin suggested to me.

“Sounds good.”

“A bottle of still and a bottle of sparkling, please.”

“Any wine?” asked the waiter.

I shook my head no.

“No thanks,” responded Martin.

“Fine,” said the waiter. “I’ll have a glass of red then,” he smiled.

Getting to business

It took some time before we managed to move the conversation to what resulted in this very gathering. Martin had just purchased an old British sports car the past weekend and he was so delighted about his new acquisition that he spent nearly 20 minutes describing the engine to me and the remarkable ways the car still handled despite its age. What he was most excited about, however, was that he managed to buy it for about a tenth the market price. When I asked Martin how on earth that came to be he was overjoyed to recount the story.

“I’m in my country home three weekends ago and about to have breakfast when I start flipping through the local gazette. I get to the classifieds and there it is. A photo of the car in black and white. A beauty. And cheap. Rare combination. So I pick up the phone, speak to the owner and it happens he lives fifteen minutes away. I go over to his place that afternoon and that’s when I meet the man. A mad scientist type with the attention span of a fly. A bald, septuagenarian guy with sideburns that practically reach his shoulders. Something out of a movie. So I’m there with the understanding that the car is worth around a hundred thousand pounds. He tells me, ‘You can have it for 10,000.’ My eyes nearly popped out of their socket. I asked him why so cheap. He says it’s because he doesn’t want the car anymore. I say fine. Who am I to complain, right?” he laughed. “But then he tells me there’s one condition. I sit back in my chair. What is it, I ask him. He says, ‘The car is pink.’ Bloody pink.”

“Pink?”

“Yeah,” he laughed out loud. “And the condition is that the next owner can never change the colour.”

“You’re being serious?” I asked, incredulously.

“Dead serious. He made me sign an agreement.”

“You bought a pink car?”

“Look. It was embarrassing driving it around at first. Half the people laugh at you. But the other half absolutely love it. I’m a mini-celebrity in the countryside.”

Before I knew it, we’d finished our main course. We hadn’t discussed any business. Time to get back on track. “So, what are you looking to buy?” I asked Martin. Whenever he reached out and asked to meet right away it was usually because they’d found a property they liked and needed to put in a bid fast. And they’d need a co-investor. That’s where I came in – to bring additional investors to the table. [READ MORE…]

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xmasatthebank

Ah, Christmas. Can you name a more joyous time of the year?

“Tis the season to be greedy,” shouted Mario, the curly-haired Italian Managing Director, as he charged out of the bathroom and darted toward his seat with a smile that inspired ambivalent emotions. On the one hand, it appeared broad and unquestionably genuine. Like one catalysed by the memory of stealing an issue of Playboy from his father’s private collection when he was a mere 13 years old and, by that afternoon, becoming the most popular kid in his class. On the other, from certain angles, the expression was unconvincing and thin, arousing wholesale resentment.

What’s with him?

He couldn’t look any more ridiculous if he tried. Wearing his signature dark green trousers, a tailor fitted blue shirt from Gieves & Hawkes and burgundy loafers, one could have easily mistaken him for a gentleman of leisure. That was perfectly acceptable attire on casual Friday. But he had donned a silly Santa Claus hat. Is that meant to lift our spirit?

The time was 5:15pm.

One couldn’t tell that Christmas was less than 10 days away. The floor was buzzing, people were shouting into their phones and a sense of constant, unabated urgency enveloped the entire building. As for holiday decorations…forget about it. Not an ornament in sight.

The pressure to keep working away remained as high as the rest of the year.

At 5:20pm, the same annoying voice forced entry into my unguarded personal space – all freedoms were handed over to the bank the moment I signed the employment contract. “Stay close to your clients. Let’s line up some big fees for January. Let’s go. Let’s go.” Mario had put on his coat and was headed out for the night. Still wearing the Santa Claus hat. Bloody f-ing idiot.

“Douchebag,” was the muted response from a colleague a few seats away. A few giggles followed.

I looked down at my wrist to double-check the time. Leaving around 5pm was considered doing a half day here. Under normal circumstances I would have wished Mario a gruesome and painful death for rubbing it in. Yet I was a man on a mission. That evening I intended to sneak away from my desk at 7:00pm sharp, three hours earlier than my usual departure time. A relative of mine was a member of a successful music band and they were playing in London that evening. I had VIP passes. For me and nine other people.

Note, in my team, leaving at 7pm was tantamount to spitting on your boss’ face in front of the board. Therefore, in order to secure an exit, I had to scheme. [READ MORE…]

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choosewisely1

Many people choose a particular line of work (a) based on perception of what’s sexy or popular and/or b) with little consideration. Your time on earth is limited, so if you choose something that will end up taking a chunk of your time, then do yourself a huge favour and make sure it’s well thought-out.

The right way

It’s also important to spend a bit of time figuring out where you fit best within the world of finance.

This is not something you can do by just reading about each division of a bank and what it does on their website. A few paragraphs or pages on the operations of M&A or Trading business aren’t enough material for you to base such a big decision on. No way!

Sure, you may end up going with what your gut instinct first tells you, but do the homework so you’re 100% sure. Besides, the more you look into it, the more powerful your conviction will become about that particular area of the business. And this will show in meetings.

Don’t blindly pick an area because it sounds sexy. You will excel much faster, make more money (in the long run), and be happier if you pursue what you like. I had a friend who was obsessed with the idea of becoming a trader and did everything it took to become one in a big bank. It was the worst decision of his life. For the short time he was a trader, he was pissing out of his ass half the week – his diarrhea was that bad. And it was all from the stress, which is compounded when it’s not something you’re suited for. [READ MORE…]

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Ibanker-cover-post

The novel is out. Here’s a little teaser.

I’ve made an excerpt available for your viewing / reading pleasure.

CLICK on the following link: THE IBANKER PROLOGUE

You can find the book on Amazon.

Feel free to share it with anyone you think will enjoy.

Thanks!

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12032015coffee

“What would you like to drink?” the stewardess asked me.

“Coffee please,” I said.

“Americano, latte, cappuccino, espresso?”

“Latte please,” I said.

We were over 35,000 feet above ground when I was served my latte. I wouldn’t say it was the best one I’ve had but who was I to complain. The circumstances and setting more than made up for the quality of the coffee, which actually wasn’t all that bad. Don’t you find food or drink a little tastier when it is served with a smile and impeccable service?

The private jet was headed to Frankfurt. It belonged to my client, a twenty something year old male heir to a vast fortune. I was accompanying him on business.

As I looked at the young scion sitting across from me I remembered the first time the two of us had a proper chat. It was several years ago in a little cafe in West London.

The relationship started over a cup of coffee.

Praise be to hot drinks

The price of a coffee is pretty much the same at a cafe, restaurant or hotel. If you have one at a 5-Star hotel or a very posh establishment it will be pricer. That’s for sure. But in general coffee is an affordable luxury for many of us. And that’s something to rejoice at because the cost of one may be all you’ll incur when you meet that one individual who’ll potentially change the way you think, the opportunities that will come your way and the path you take in life.

A time of accessibility

We are very fortunate to live in this day age. Really. We should all light incense daily and be thankful for it.

Almost everyone on earth is accessible now.

There was a time, not so very long ago when it was extremely difficult, if not impossible, to get the attention of someone you didn’t know, especially if they happened to be high profile.

Now, with a few clicks and some trial and error, you can figure out most people’s contact details. Then you send an e-mail and when the recipient looks in his or her inbox your message is present. Hello. Contact made.

Whether it’s a Hong Kong-based hedge fund manager, British film producer, member of the real estate team at a GCC Sovereign Wealth Fund or Silicon Valley entrepreneur, you can touch base with any of them. Your message can land in their inbox and be seen. And if you think about it that’s bloody damn powerful. Metaphorically speaking all the roads have been paved. You can drive right over to your destination.

Yet because it’s become so much easier to gain access to people it also means that a lot of people are going about it the wrong way. They shoot off e-mails without pausing to think about the right way to make contact. Consequently, their message usually lacks tact and grace. I’d say 90% of people will approach the exercise in a sloppy manner and nothing will come of their half-ass efforts. They’ll reach the destination but nobody will let them in. Permission not granted.

You want to be one of the select few who makes contact and then proceeds to the next stage with the recipient (your target).

How do I do that, you ask. My advice is simple… [READ MORE…]

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