It was the middle of July. Though, as always, I was busy as hell and indoors looking out at the world through a window near my desk, I reminded myself that this was a great time of year. The weather was warm, people were excited about summer travel plans and of course there were interns all around the bank.
Hungry, driven interns ran around with boundless energy. Interns, many of whom had gone through everything short of giving away an organ to obtain an internship, were to us in the business very much like newborns, the future. They would one day carry the torch…
Of course, not all interns are the same.
When a banker has spent enough time on the job he or she will come to acknowledge that there are several undeniable certainties in business. One of them is that for every worthwhile act or deed you carry out for someone you can, and damn well should, ask for one in return. It need not happen right away but should at some point in the future when the time is just right. When a true banker calls in a favour it often means money is part of the equation and a banker’s favour always – let me repeat, ALWAYS – comes with interest.
As the banker evolves in his or her craft he or she becomes a procurer of bigger favours. Moreover, this wizard of finance also becomes well versed in the act of subtly implying favours.
I spent a great deal of time covering the Middle East region and, let me tell you, in that part of the world everyone understands the saying: “scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”. For the enterprising banker, it is a land of opportunities…
One quiet morning as I sat at my desk building a financial model…a call came in to my line manager’s telephone line. We receive calls throughout the day and tend to be so focused on our own work that the person sitting literally less than a meter away from any of us could be on the phone for half an hour and you’d have no clue what the hell they discussed. But something my line manager said early on in his call caught my attention:
Line manager: “…Khaled habibi (darling) for you I will do everything I can, especially if it’s about family. Tell me what you need habibi.”
Khaled was the Chief Financial Officer of a massive regional business conglomerate headquartered in Bahrain. His was a firm of significant importance to us because deals with them always led to magnificent investment banking fees. Though we had tried hard to do business with them in recent years they had always gone with competitor banks for historical reasons. We wanted to change this.
I lean over toward my line manager to listen in.
Line manager: (sounding a bit shocked) “Serious? Art history? The internship season is halfway through already.”
I’m not sure what Khaled told him but less than a minute later I sensed a change in my line manager’s tone.
Line manager: “Ok. Look Khaled, it won’t be easy. I have to get senior management involved. These things have rules. It would be a very big exception to the rule. We will have to push…”
My line manager did not speak a word for several minutes but listened with a big smile on his face while picking his nose. Disgusting. The conversation finally ended.
Line manager: “Thank you habibi (darling). I’ll be in touch before the end of the day.”
I heard nothing of it until the following morning when my line manager asked me to follow him into one of the meeting rooms nearby. I took a seat and listened. He handed me a sheet of paper displaying someone’s CV on it.
Line manager: “I need you to polish up this piece of shit CV within the hour.”
The ibanker: “Why?”
Line manager: “It’s the CFO’s daughter’s CV and we are going to offer her an internship with our team for a month. I need to hand a revised copy to Human Resources in an hour. Make it look more professional and lengthen it. Oh and you’ll have to babysit her when she joins.”
I got back to my desk and went through her CV. She was an Art History major and never held a job nor internship before let alone have finance experience under her belt. Half the page was blank. This was the most ridiculous CV I’d seen. You wouldn’t use it as toilet paper it was so pathetic. She’d never stand a chance in hell of getting an internship if she applied through the normal route.
An hour later I had flavoured her resume enough that the before and after works were indistinguishable from one another. By that time my line manager had spoken to the head of our team who had in turn made a call to someone more senior and obtained green light to extend an internship offer. Sending the revised resume to Human Resources was ceremonial. To give off a semblance of procedure.
One favour for another
The following week my line manager proudly announced during a morning meeting that we, Paris Berkeley Capital, had won a very lucrative mandate from the Bahraini company.
As we walked out of the meeting our eyes met and he winked at me and said “quid pro quo”.