Us humans are a rather interesting lot. We come in all colours, sizes and shapes. But what really sets us apart is how differently we behave from one another.
Indeed, on a broad level, ibankers operate differently than other professionals. We think very (x5) commercially, foresee fee-making angles where others see obstacles, contemplate large success fees and act as rainmakers, for instance by convincing established corporate powerhouses and government officials to raise and spend billions to buy trophy London commercial real estate or build a new airport. All this influences the way we act. Yet that everyone knows already.
What concerns me is that very little is known by the populace about the multitude of shades – much more than a mere 50, which make up ibankers as individuals. Alas, many people out there still see ibankers as all being very much the same.
It was something an artist once told me that drove this home.
A few of us had gone to a nearby bar following a rocking Vampire Weekend concert. The place was overflowing with people, most of whom had in fact just come from the concert. Everyone was in a great mood, having drinks and making conversation.
I happened to be chatting with a painter from New York City I had just met when an investment banker – you can tell your kin like a vampire feels another’s presence – at the bar was telling a few guys about a deal he was working on for a major music entertainment company. I’ll admit the fellow ibanker was half drunk and unusually loud. To make things worse, he was name-dropping left, right and centre. Allegedly, he partied with the likes of Beyoncé and Bieber. The painter next to me also took note of it and wasn’t aware that I was a member of the ibanking clan too.
“Dude, take a look at that guy at the bar. I mean, really, ibankers are all the same. They act the same, sound the same and even behave the same. They probably even fart the same.”
I smiled along.
The painter then raised a finger to underline his next point. “Actually they’re too uptight to fart.”
I can understand how, to a man who wields a paintbrush, all ibankers may appear the same. Sort of like robots manufactured in an assembly line. They wear the same suit and use numbers as their sole means of communication. But that would be like me saying that most artists are winos who pretend there is meaning and beauty in the way natural light reflects off dog shit in a New York City alleyway. But that very moment all I could think of was the word ‘fart’.
If young Picasso only knew Youssef, a Moroccan ibanker in my team at Paris Berkeley Capital. If only…
Youssef the Ripper
The thing about Youssef that intrigued me most was how he ended up getting a job with our organisation. He wasn’t your “typical” ibanker. It wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that Youssef was not technical at all. He had trouble adding two single-digit numbers together in his head. He lacked communication skills and therefore when he made a comment what sometimes followed were empty stares by those around him. Few people liked him. He, naturally, looked like he hadn’t taken a shower in days. He presented very poorly and I could tell that clients often thought the same. Somehow Youssef made it in through the cracks years earlier and landed a job with Paris Berkeley Capital. But these were not the characteristics which sprung to mind when Picasso made his comment at the bar. What I was thinking of was a funny habit Youssef had. See, Youssef was not one to hold back farts.
Youssef and I worked together on a number of deals and had become somewhat friends. Suffice it to say for now that it was a love-hate relationship. There were times I wanted break his nose and then there were times we’d get along like old mates. The best of times he made me laugh so hard I’d nearly piss myself.
Some of those laughs took place while we were on conference calls with a dozen or more people dialled in.
Welcome to the conference call, please enter your pin
Youssef and I sat relatively close to one another; so while both of us were on the same conference call we could make eye contact during that time and read each other’s facial expressions.
It would go like this. Youssef would get my attention by waving his hand as we listened in on the call. Our lines were of course muted most of the time, unless we had something to say. I instantly knew what he was up to by the look on his face. With his headset on he’d slowly walk away from his desk and head toward the bathroom. Before entering he’d always look back, smile and wink. Then moments later as someone on the call would make a serious point Youssef would un-mute his line and let out a massive fart for everyone to hear.
Most of the time, I was on the verge of tears as soon as Youssef disappeared from my view into the bathroom, in anticipation. And I’d hold my head down because anyone looking at me would think I’d gone made.
I thought about telling the artist about Youssef but I held back.
We ibankers are not all the same. We are unique in structure and makeup just as each snowflake is unique. So next time you see your friendly ibanker remember that he has shades.