“Holy shit! Un-be-liev-able,” said Vivek. “He flipped through each slide in under three seconds and caught all the mistakes right away. It took him two minutes to go through the entire deck. What would take all four of us collectively an hour he did it in just a few minutes. Like in A Beautiful mind with Russell Crowe. They probably jumped out of the page at him.”
It was Vivek’s first month as an analyst and he was still susceptible to bouts of frenzied hysteria. I didn’t take my eyes off the computer screen. I had no interest in the silly conversation which ensued between him and his buddies. Where neophytes were present some variation of that story theme would regularly surface. I’d heard it too many times before.
‘Presentation scrutiny worship’ towards senior bankers was common among young new joiners. I’d go so far as to say that it was akin to a parent-child relationship. Vivek was like a little boy who saw daddy as the greatest in the whole wide world. So long as father banker did something little Vivek couldn’t, the former drew great admiration. Even when daddy used his toes to pick up a pencil from the floor, it was…magical and awe-inspiring.
I admit it. Maneuvering your toes to execute a simple trick is incomparable to refining a pitchbook. None the less, a master-servant relationship dynamic is at work here.
My personal view on ‘presentation scrutiny worship’ was ambivalent. On the one hand, you’d think that only a single-cell organism would rejoice at someone’s ability to detect font size discrepancies between headings on two consecutive presentation slides. On the other hand, the obsessive level of attention to detail coupled with the unforgiving demand for consistency applied to presentations led way to the creation of quite simply very effective documents. It simply worked. I’ll be honest with you. This particular skill became invaluable to me, especially when I later launched businesses. It enabled me to make a mere startup, comprised of only a few guys, appear like a mid-sized company with global operations. Hey, you just can’t ask for a £20,000/month retainer if you’re a few guys working out of a tiny shared office space.
Every once in a while, a friend, working in a different industry, would stumble upon a copy of a work presentation I’d left hanging about the flat. The impression was written all over his or her face: this looks like some serious shit. Not to mention that it also reinforced the master of the universe image they – mistakenly – painted of me in their minds. After seeing some of my work – do I sound like an artist? :) – some friends would implore me to edit presentations they were working on. Work and university presentations alike. More often than not, it turned out like those makeover television programmes where you watched a thirteenth century medieval dump of a flat transform into a penthouse apartment worthy of a scion of Rothschild.
Because presentations were the chief medium through which we marketed revenue-generating ideas to clients, errors were to be avoided at all costs. Consequently, diatribes were served freely like parking tickets throughout the bank. Sometimes a poor soul would get it for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks in-between. They’d remedy the pain by getting drunk like a lord on Friday night.
Vivek was often the unlucky recipient of abuse. The same Managing Director Vivek praised earlier (opening quote) had given him a serious dose of abuse one Wednesday afternoon. That Friday evening me and another colleague ran into Vivek at a London nightclub called Mahiki, a venue loved and frequented by bankers.
Welcome to Mahiki
I arrived with my friend and we went straight to the bar. A moment later, a tall guy with a ponytail and a cowboy hat handed us each a glass of champagne. We smiled and gladly accepted the offering. Someone decided to buy drinks for everyone around the bar. Cool. Didn’t think much of it.
I decided to head to the bathroom to relieve myself. While standing by the urinals waiting for one to become free I felt someone’s hand on my shoulder. It was Vivek. I was actually happy to see him. “Hey Vivek. Good to see you.”
But Vivek didn’t respond. He just stood there staring at me with a huge smile and swaying from side to side. It looked like he was two beer drops away from falling flat on his face.
We waited well over five minutes in line during which time no words were exchanged. Vivek was far too drunk for conversation. A urinal freed up and as I turned around to tell him we’d catch up later, I found him looking up towards the ceiling with his eyes closed and mouth wide open. A strange suspicion draws my gaze down to find the unimaginable: a pool of urine forming at Vivek’s feet as he stood there relieving himself in line surrounded by people.
The following Monday I was not surprised to learn that it was Vivek who had ordered drinks for everyone at the bar. One of his fellow analysts, who was also at Mahiki that night, told us Vivek’s bill came to over £5,000. Amongst other things, Vivek had ordered four bottles of Dom Pérignon. And apparently, at one point, he walked over to another table, got down on one knee, offered one of the bottles to a girl sitting there stating that it was “a humble offering from Vivek,” got up, returned straight to the bar and ordered another bottle.
Perfection is a must
In short, errors were costly to everyone. The firm, who stood to lose business from it; the employee who got told off because of making the mistake and who ended up spending shitloads of money to get over the pain of abuse, for a night he probably wouldn’t even remember.
Were it not for labour laws and the times we live in some senior bankers would unhesitatingly sign off on the occasional public flogging to set an example of anyone guilty of gross misconduct, i.e. using wrong font size or style.
This brings up an important question: for a presentation, how much revision is enough? Even a 20-page pitchbook could contain thousands of data points. There will always be something that can be amended or improved. I have seen five-page presentations go through well over twenty revisions.
Very early on in my banking career a Managing Director said to me: “You can always further improve a presentation just as you can always charge a client more.” Food for thought…
Like playing the piano on stage at the Royal Albert Hall, acting on stage on Broadway or even building a fitness magazine front cover body, natural ability will only do so much. Only proper training will enable a young pianist, drama student or bodybuilder to get to the top. Similarly, it takes countless hours of training for fresh bankers to develop the level of attention to detail that makes a banker an uber banker.
Being a master of pitchbooks doesn’t make you like John Nash. But I’ll tell you something: it’s a skill that I take my hat off to because it takes time and pain to acquire and it’s bloody useful.