A Real ibanker

You got so used to seeing people get yelled at Paris Berkeley Capital that after six months on the job someone two seats away could get machine gunned with insults and be on the verge of tears and you wouldn’t even turn your eye in their direction. Like a song that you overplay, it gets relegated to the low-priority area of your brain.

Think of the general who’s spent so many years in battle that he is able to calmly give himself a straight razor shave outdoors as explosives violently go off around him and his subordinates run frantically for cover. You were so used to witnessing abuse it would have to be bloody spectacular for you to raise an eyebrow. Even then you’d probably let out a long sigh and look back at your computer screen.

When terror hits home

So when Amit, a few rows down from me, got yelled at I was tempted to turn around as he’s a friend and there are emotional motivations at play. But that very moment I was preoccupied with stealthily updating my resume ahead of a meeting with a hedge fund recruiter. Come on, I had priorities.

Therefore, I could not really be bothered. I figured I’d have a chat with him later and find out what happened. The only reason I did end up turning around was because I heard something unusually absurd:

“What kind of stupid stapling job is that? Do it again.” The senior banker looming over Amit then proceeded to slam what sounded like a large dumbbell on my poor friend’s desk and walked away. A 70-slide presentation can get heavy.

Amit had done the unthinkable. He had stapled the presentation horizontally, allegedly making it difficult to neatly flip through the pages during a sit-down session. God Forbid one of us would make a client’s life difficult! It was our religious mission in life to make the contemplation of deals as smooth and easy as possible for our precious clients in order for us to get a mandate quickly and efficiently. And as a result see lots of big numbers enter our bank accounts. So was the senior banker’s wise thinking. [READ MORE…]

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Nearly every ibanker who has set foot on this fine earth believes in the service and worship of a higher power. The very few outliers of this mysterious, numbers-are-much-sexier-in-my-bank-account sector (i.e. ibanking) you may come across who deny this simply haven’t looked deep enough within their soul to realise it. But they will. It is but a question of time and they have no choice in the matter. It may be that it dawns upon them only after their life as an ibanker ends, and they rediscover that luxury called free time. It could even happen right after they’re summarily fired from the job and find themselves sitting alone on a park bench eating a tasteless sandwich. And then, like unexpected lightning, it strikes and everything becomes illuminated.

When it comes to religion the ibanker is both a monotheistic and polytheistic creature at the same time. But let us not dwell too deeply on the inconsistencies which that assertion introduces into the dialectic. As tends to be the case with many arguments, conflicts and general confusion, much boils down to semantics. And though some will argue that that those two states of disparate beliefs – simultaneous acceptance in one and in many – are irreconcilable they are in fact not wholly incompatible in the world of the ibanker. Before I explain why, it’s important to touch on a remarkable trait of the ibanker species: openness to the impossible.

Believe young ibanker…believe

See, the ibanker has battled odds which would turn nearly any doubter of things supernatural into a firm believer, including himself or herself. Reminds me of an amusing little story. It is said that once upon a time an ibanker in India managed to sell the Taj Mahal, which everyone knows doesn’t belong to any one person, to a consortium of European investors for fifty million dollars cash and disappeared with the money as soon as a fake deed was handed over. By the time the fairer skinned businesspeople realised something was wrong it was too late and they had indeed been taken for a – rickshaw – ride of epic proportions. Note, the protagonist was an ex-ibanker at a tiny boutique ibank, so imagine what the big boys at the top firms do. But that is a whole other story. The point is the ibanker is a believer in all things. [READ MORE…]

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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.

Vampire Weekend

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.” [READ MORE…]

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The Execution

One of the biggest sharks on the floor my first year at Paris Berkeley Capital was a managing director called Matt. A tall and chubby man in his mid-forties, he looked like a character out of a Dickens novel and scowled every time he faced a junior banker. When Matt was around, the atmosphere was unusually tense. People behaved differently. As he walked past an analyst, the latter immediately put on an air of gravity, moved closer to the computer screen and stared ahead with a sense of purpose and determination. It was imperative to give off the impression of high concentration and mental focus. You had to look extremely busy when he was around. Matt’s proximity sent shivers through many spines. Mostly junior vertebrates. There was reason for this, of course. It was no irrational fear. It was not unfounded. You were afraid. Very afraid.

Not a day went by without Matt yelling and screaming at someone. I assumed these intense episodes were cathartic for Matt. No doubt he was under a lot of pressure to deliver more revenues and fees for the bank. Everyone was under pressure at Paris Berkeley Capital. Most of us dealt with it our own particular way. But when Matt went off on some poor pre-pubescent creature of the lower banking species it meant being belittled so badly in front of others that the downtrodden intern or analyst wouldn’t peep another word out of their mouth the rest of the day. Stories of Matt’s abuses became the thing of legends. Having witnessed many, and sadly experienced a few myself, I can confidently say that his verbal attacks were legendary.

Much like predicting the movement of stock prices in emerging market stock exchanges, knowing when Matt would violently erupt next was confined to the realm of fortune-tellers, soothsayers and clairvoyants. There were too many variables involved to know for sure. Anything could set him off: a missing period at the end of a sentence; a small typo in an e-mail to a client; forgetting to PDF a document; the way you dressed; being unlucky to have been born. Occasionally, he’d walk up behind you and just stand there. He then carefully eyed your computer screens looking for, no summoning, a mistake. Unsurprisingly, you started feeling uncomfortable and it would affect whatever work you were doing at the time. And that’s when he would unleash hell.

Daniel, a German analyst in my team bore the brunt of it in our group… [READ MORE…]

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Lawrence of Quid Pro Quo

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…

The request

One quiet morning as I sat at my desk building a financial model… [READ MORE…]

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A hot meal...what's that?

Blessed are they who enjoy the luxury of savouring the taste of hot food after seeing steam rise from their plate. Verily, they belong to a class of people for whom time is no master. One may even say that they are quite privileged. Slave or no slave, much do they differ from the rare breed of women and men we know – personally, for those of us who are so lucky – as investment bankers.

Everyone of us is slave to at least one master in life. And a master no real banker takes lightly is time. It does not forgive, forget or fail.

From the moment an individual seals over his or her commitment to the bank via contract, joins a team and embarks on a journey into the corporate world’s greatest money making establishment, time will define his world. Soon after it may come to change everything about him or her.

Having a young army of energetic souls willing to sacrifice all of their waking hours to the service and pursuit of money certainly adds to an investment bank’s arsenal. However, the organization is able to deliver jaw-dropping results by also simultaneously pushing the limits of human productivity. Before joining an investment bank we see a boy who may be comfortable running around his neighbourhood for a half hour if he paces himself and breathes correctly. A few years into the job we encounter a man whose ambitions only Everest will satisfy. His ability to now achieve much more in a fraction of the time partly due to his growing respect for time.

Rise at 6 in the morning. Shower and dress rapidly. Rush to work. Don’t be late to your morning meeting. Finish the client presentation. Dial in to all the important calls. Meet clients. Send your loved one an I-miss-you SMS. As the list of priorities, tasks and objectives continually rises, so does the need to break down time into smaller, more manageable pieces.

Yet just as it takes time to tame a wild beast, it also takes time to appreciate the gravity of time itself, though of course time is a beast none can tame. [READ MORE…]

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Answer The Phone Like A Spartan Warrior

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.

The victim

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… [READ MORE…]

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The praise

The praise people shower an ibanker with once they discover that amongst them stands a rare species of manking capable of great mental feats, blessed with inordinately bountiful drive and ambition and an intrinsic metal detector, gets old quickly. After you hear the same sycophantic praise several hundred times over the effect is lost. At some point the ibanker will yearn for diversity and novelty. Who wants to limit themselves to the missionary position forever? Come on now.

Hence, there reaches a point where every ibanker will seek to diversify praise. And as we all know necessity is the mother of invention… [READ MORE…]

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Diversity is beautiful, like a Bond girl. Imagine if you’re social network comprised only of a) Americans, or b) Persians, or c) Indians. I love all three groups but you may soon find yourself beginning to a) put on a few extra pounds super sizing meals, or b) dress in black and wear slicked-back hair , or c) worship Aamir Khan to excess.

Nothing wrong with any of the above but having a mixed group of friends makes life so much more interesting. Who wouldn’t want to sit at a dinner table with the following people: an American ER doctor; Dutch starving artist; English waiter; Indian columnist; French aid worker; Japanese graphic designer; Lebanese private banker; Swiss filmmaker; Austrian ski instructor; Kenyan violinist. It’s an interesting table whichever way you switch around the nationalities and vocations.

Bankers absolute cherish the whole diversity phenomenon. After all, one of their chief efforts on the social, self-marketing front is convincing just about everyone that not only are they superhuman financiers but that, despite the rigors of the job, they still maintain a healthy work-life balance and are quite cultured as can be demonstrated by their friends. Consequently a banker will jump at the occasion to show off ‘special’ friends to fellow bankers.

Example:

Banker’s phone rings. He answers.

Banker: “Hi John.”
John (another banker): “Hi Banker, how are you?”
Banker: “Not bad, I’m just having coffee with Kesha. He’s a Mongolian art dealer.”
John: “What???”
Banker: (smiling to himself) “A Mongolia art dealer.”
John: “Sweet! I need to add an art dealer to my circle.”

See, a banker is intelligent enough to know that it’s very convenient to only hang out with like-minded, bonus-starved felines. So he or she will go the extra mile to show the world how mixed his social circle actually is.

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An ibanker never lets go of a deal

Some say that gone are the days when the last standing man in the village facing an army of enemies will fight to the very end rather than scurry off to avoid a certain death. Who knows if today’s metrosexual man whose bathroom cupboard is shelved with anti-ageing products and wrinkle removing formulas would act the same way.

Yet that spirit of epic sacrifice still lives strong in the corridors of the mighty global investment banks. There you’ll find the men and women who do it all for the deal. They will never let go until a deal is successfully closed.

But beware of the countless posers who call themselves ‘bankers’ and tell you they’re completely swamped with work on an alleged ‘live’ deal. Question why it is they can tell you this as they sit back comfortably in a chair at some cafe at 5pm on a Thursday. My dear friends, the bankers I speak of will rarely discuss personal sacrifice with you. Firstly because they have no time to speak to you and are in the office, always. Secondly, because it speaks for itself.

We are all familiar with the widely discussed sacrifices attributed to the banking sector, such as routinely working 100hrs+ weeks during deal time or sleeping at the office. However, the sacrifices I speak of are on another scale: having to miss the birth of your child; not having the time to change out of a suit and therefore sleeping in it and heading right back to work where switching ties will have to do for four or five days; keeping an empty water bottle under your desk to relieve yourself when working on a critical financial model which cannot accommodate a single moment’s distraction; crying uncontrollably at the desk, out loud, in front of everyone because you’re eyes have not looked away once from the computer screens in nearly 17 hours yet continuing to work because everything is about the deal.

Oh and a real banker won’t be chilling in a cafe at 5pm on a Thursday because that’s around the time the banker will finally have time to eat breakfast. At his desk.

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