The media often portrays the life of young investment banker as one where they are subject to constant verbal abuse and tirades. I’ve personally worked in more than a few industries and I must say you do take a lot of shit in an investment bank. And much of this has to do with stakes.
Sure you can say “it’s all relative” and “people in many sectors take a lot shit”. True. Very true. However, when the stakes include a $25 billion transaction that can make not only triple-digit millions for the bank but single or even double-digit millions for senior bankers who are responsible for the deal and sit just a few seats away from you, while also putting their jobs on the line, then something as small as a typo in an e-mail can trigger a torrent of abuse. Like it or not that’s banking. Period.
Yet there are times when the underlying reason for shouting abuse is simply something you’d expect to see in a movie. Something from another time in history. Say days of Sparta.
The day Bruce, one of the Managing Directors, lost it and, with the might of his voice, reduced Alex, one of the German analysts, to the size of a pea was one of those unforgettable moments. Sadly unforgettable for Alex.
Alex was a young analyst who joined the team which covered large German corporates. A truly accomplished individual for his age, with top academic qualification and a list of notable achievements outside of his school life, he had one marked weakness: when he answered the phone he didn’t sound like a banker. And the day that marked a turning point in poor Alex’s banking life was on a day…Bruce faced the possibility of losing a deal due to poor market conditions. This meant potentially losing millions.
The phone line rings and Alex picks up. “Paris Berkeley Capital,” he says in a feeble voice. Normally it would be difficult for anyone to hear him answer the phone, the main reason being that there is generally lots of buzz and noise going. But the call, to Alex’s great misfortune, came in exactly at a time when it was suddenly quiet all around.
The moment Bruce hears what sounds like a mouse farting, he spins his chair round and faces Alex. He quietly waits until Alex finishes the call. At this point, we all realise something is going on as Bruce’s face looks like that of a psychopath.
Bruce: shouting “Alex.”
Alex: his heart skips a beat and fright takes over his entire body ”Y-yes.”
Bruce: “What are you doing?”
Alex: “Excuse me?”
Bruce: “Is this a retirement home?”
Alex: pausing for a second “No.”
Bruce: “Then why are you answering the phone like a little nurse?”
Alex is looking pale. This has gotten everyone’s attention. I see people’s heads rise above their computer screens.
Bruce: shouting loud enough for everyone around to hear “This…is an investment bank. We are investment bankers. Don’t fucking answer the phone like an eight-year old school girl ever again.”
Alex: “I’m sorry.”
Bruce: turning around and picking up his phone “Pay attention.”
Bruce proceeds to dial one of the other analysts nearby who of course had witnessed the whole scene. The analyst answers the phone very assertively and loud, as if responding to a military general’s call. “Good!” replies Bruce and hangs up after the demonstration.
Bruce: addressing Alex “That’s how you answer the phone. Don’t ever sound like a bitch again. Now get me a coffee and be quick about it.”
With that Bruce turned around and went back to work. From that point on, every time Alex answered the phone you could hear him scream across the floor.