I’ll never forget the conversation I had with my line manager right after being given a corporate credit card. It was a sunny afternoon and he invited me for lunch at a nearby gourmet pizzeria. As soon as we arrived at the restaurant and took our seats he ordered a bottle of rosé wine, sat back and smiled. Much obliged.
What he went on to impart revealed to me yet another important commandment in the sacred art of investment banking. Working in the sector was not only about the salary and the bonus you earned but also about developing your taste in all things refined he would say every so often. It was part of the ‘game’ he would assert. And food and drink constituted an integral part of the charade because quite simply a lot of important deals and key decisions were made over a meal or drink. Given the high stakes at hand it was not unusual for such meetings to take place in Michelin starred restaurants.
He looks straight into my eyes and very earnestly says, “if you want to be successful in this business then you must become an expert in haute cuisine, and unless your father owns an oil field in Texas then your corporate card is the way you get there.”
The waitress returns with the rosé. My line manager ensures – at least it appeared to me – it is the bottle and vintage he asked for. He raises one eyebrow and begins to swirl the minuscule amount of wine poured into his glass. He sticks his nose deep inside the glass, sniffs – quite audibly – and finally takes a small sip. He smiles at the waitress and tells her “it’s good.”
I went on to taste the wine myself which, though far from being an expert, I find to be full of body and flavour. I pick up the wine bottle and inspect it. “This is a real nice wine” I comment.
“What’s it called again?” my line managers asks.
I’m a bit surprised at the question. I read out the name and vintage of the rosé. “I thought it was a wine you liked.”
“Don’t be silly,” he says and laughs. This right after delivering a short discourse on the importance of haute cuisine. “Do you know how many wines there are from all over the world? I can’t keep track of all that shit. I just picked one of the more expensive wines on the list. That’s how you do it. The good stuff is more expensive…simple. Never order house wine on your card.”
I can live with that.