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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oldtheib

I’ve always appreciated the rationale behind sending a grey haired banker to meet with a grey haired client. If they’re both in their 50s or 60s then they’re on the same wavelength, so to speak.

And the reality is that some people prefer to sit with an individual their own age, rather than a younger man or woman who hasn’t been around as long. Who perhaps has yet to learn some of life’s big lessons. That’s perfectly fine.

But sending a senior banker just for the sake of having an old geezer in a room with a client doesn’t make sense. I’d seen it go wrong before. Like the time I was working at Paris Berkeley Capital and the Chairman of one of the Arab Gulf’s largest banks announced he was in town.

Breaking fast

It was a morning like any other in London’s Canary Wharf district. The weather was grey and overcast. Everyone inside the bank was stressed.

I received an e-mail from Abdul Aziz, the Chairman. He addressed me and copied in my line manager, who was out of town on holiday.

In his message, Abdul Aziz wrote, “I’m in London and would like to invite the two of you to dinner.”

Cool. I’m looking forward to it.

Within minutes, my phone rang. Who is this? I didn’t recognise the number. I quickly looked up the country code. Indonesia? Oh, it’s from Bali. My line manager was on holiday there with his family. I googled the time there. It was midnight. Don’t you have anything better to do, like make love to your wife? I picked up the phone.

“Don’t reply to Abdul Aziz’s mail,” he said without bothering to say hello. “I’m going to take care of it. I’ll ring you back in 5 minutes,” he said.

Take care of what?. Dinner seemed a straightforward affair to me.

A few minutes later my phone rang again. I answered.

“I’m going to ask Tom to meet with Abdul Aziz,” said my line manager.

“Tom?” I asked. “From New York?”

“That’s right.”

“But he doesn’t cover the Middle East. He works in the New York office,” I said.

“That’s fine. He’s in town for a couple of days and I’ve been told that Tom should go to dinner.”

“But I—”

“Alone.”

Shit. “Fine.”

A Managing Director in our New York office, Tom had probably travelled out of the US a handful of times and certainly never anywhere near the Middle East. Though a skilled banker, he had the cultural IQ of a beer can. What he did have a lot of, on the other hand, were grey hairs.

And little did Tom know it was the holy month of Ramadan and that Abdul Aziz was fasting. And that dinner that evening was to be more than just a business discussion. I’d say a special occasion.

I didn’t mention a thing. Screw them.

That evening, banker and client met in an Argentine restaurant in Central London. [READ MORE…]

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worldwarzcsheetfeb15

There’s this misconception about investment bankers and dealmakers being caged monkeys sitting behind a computer, facing 5 screens and doing nothing but preparing financial models and presentations from sunrise to well past sunset. A most boring species of number-crunchers, many erroneously assume.

In fact, recently I overheard two passengers discuss the business on a Jet Airways flight to Mumbai.

One of them said to the other, “The world of finance is so bloody dull, yaar. A big day for an investment banker is reading the Financial Times in bed.” They both laughed.

I found it amusing.

Later, that same guy pointed out a picture of Brad Pitt and George Clooney together in some magazine to the other passenger. “These two guys are so cool. You know, I wonder if Brad really looks like this in real life.”

I smiled to myself.

A memorable encounter

What many people fail to realise is that films, though they aim to put magic on a screen, are very often motivated by commercial aims. Filmmaking is a business. Sure, the backers want to entertain audiences but the chief objective is to ensure a return on investment. Not sexy but true.

As film budgets continue to rise, more and more capital is needed to realise the motion picture and fulfil the cinematic experience. And when you need lots of money, you need investors. And dealmakers like myself are sometimes the ones who bring investors to the table.

The aforementioned passenger reminded me of an encounter I had some years ago.

Back in 2011, a European film fund approached me to help them raise money. They knew I was close to several Family Offices (organisations that manage the wealth of very large families) and invited me to learn more about their business.

“Sure,” I said, being a big fan of film.

“Why don’t you come on the set of a film we’ve worked on,” said a senior executive from the fund. “You can meet some of the crew.”

“I’d be delighted to,” I said.

The following week I found myself on the set of World War Z, which was partly shot in London. I arrived to the studios very early in the morning where I was met by a young female assistant. [READ MORE…]

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austriafeb9

Three years ago I received a phone call from the owner of a leading Austrian retailing company. He was a client of mine.

“I’ve decided I’m not going to sell the company just yet,” he said. “I want to take the company from a €70million turnover business to €120million within the next few years. And I’m confident I can do it.”

Suddenly, the volume dial was turned down. The rest of the conversation became a blur. I couldn’t pay attention anymore. I was left flabbergasted. Utterly flabbergasted.

After I hung up the phone, I took a deep breath and put my face in my hands. All that time spent on this deal. For nothing.

I stood up and went for a long walk in order to digest what had just happened. It was that or downing a bottle of vodka. And I seldom drink so it would have probably killed me.

6 months earlier

One morning I received a call from Peter, a successful Austrian businessman I knew. The two of us had met the year before while I was conducting due diligence for a Family Office looking to invest into the company Peter served as CEO. Though the family I was advising didn’t end up investing, Peter and I hit it off and became friends.

“I’ve got a phenomenal investment opportunity and I think you can help,” said Peter.

“Let’s hear it.” I was always intrigued to hear about unique opportunities.

“I’m flying to London tonight. Let’s meet at Claridge’s Hotel tomorrow morning at 8 and discuss it over breakfast.”

“I’ve got a conference call at 8.”

“Is it critical?” Peter asked.

“Not really. But—”

“Cancel it.”

I took that to mean it was a hot deal. So I rescheduled the conference call. [READ MORE…]

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