There is a branch of psychology which studies human behaviour in the workplace. It is called Industrial and Organisational Psychology. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis a handful of psychologists from that field were handpicked by a consortium of bulge-bracket investment banks to fulfil an important mission: to create the Comprehensive Banker Fitness (CBF) programme.
Like many radical ideas within the world of finance, the CBF was born in a luxury hotel in the presence of a beautiful woman. The setting was the Dorchester Hotel on Park Lane in Mayfair. A landmark in its own right, it is owned by the Brunei Investment Agency and has served for some time now as a meeting spot for the rich, famous and criminal. From the opening of private bank accounts by dodgy nominee middlemen representing prominent African politicians and up-and-coming A-list actors sharing beds for the night with casting agents, directors and / or producers to high-level discussions surrounding the Qatar Investment Authority’s next trophy acquisition, the Dorchester is where centres of power meet. Each year executives from the world’s leading investment banks secretly gather there for their annual ‘collaboration for survival’ meeting. The point of these meetings is to share experiences and exchange ideas on how to keep staff motivated and hungry. Remember, pyramids can only be built on the back, sweat and blood of slaves.
The year CBF was born was a rather tumultuous period which saw record-level firings and job losses in the finance sector. Overall negative sentiment in the market, coupled with the rising possibility that bonuses would fall far below previous years, led many bankers to question their career. According to several independent surveys, talk of leaving the industry was rife and at its highest in years. Naturally, executives were scared. Very scared.
The annual meetings took place in one of the Dorchester suites the execs stayed in. The whole affair generally lasted two days. The first day was more of an open discussion around challenges each of the banks faced while the second day was used to identify practical solutions. Despite an eight-hour-long meeting on Day 1 the discussions were not fruitful, to say the least. As soon as they called it a day one of the execs, Roger, known to be one the highest earners in the business, took out his phone and reached out to Madame Shireen, London’s most exclusive procurer. He needed a distraction.
What I know of Madame Shireen’s club, or the ‘house’ as it is known by members, was imparted to me one summer evening in Monaco by the youngest son a real estate billionaire whose family office eventually became a client of mine after I left the bank to run my own company.
Madame Shireen is a half-Iranian, half-French women of timeless beauty who runs what is essentially a network of call girls catering to the most powerful and influential individuals from around the globe. The ‘house’ is located in London yet the company which owns and runs the entity is offshore. A far cry from the standard escort service you see advertised in public phone booths or the yellow pages, Madame Shireen’s is in a league of its own. The women selected to join the ‘house’ not only possess superior physical beauty but great mental aptitude. All ‘girls’, as they are called, are trained for a a minimum of two years before meeting a single client. Their training is not limited to acts and rituals which aim to satisfy the clientele – all done in-house – but also involves completing coursework at leading business schools, auction houses, social sciences institutions, language learning schools and other organisations which enable them to relate to the ‘guests’ of the ‘house.’ All of them also undergo drama training, the purpose of which is not relevant here. For the duration of their residency in the ‘house’, they, for all intents and purposes, belong to the ‘house’ and their every move is monitored and scrutinised. On paper the girls are hired by, and work for, one of several companies owned by the ‘house’. Most, if not all, are real estate holding companies. Naturally the girls also come to learn nearly everything about that sector be it residential, commercial or hospitality. When you run into them in a restaurant or cafe they’ll hand you a business card and you’ll simply assume they work as high-end estate agents. The girls are compensated through salary and bonus. What’s more, they are also trained in money management and are generally able to sustain a perfectly comfortable life going forward after leaving the ‘house’, managing the money they will have earned over the years. Most walk away owning at least two nice flats or houses, fully paid. What they’ve learned during their tenure gives them tremendous power.
That night, Roger decided to share a nice meal in the room with with one the girls, Noor. He had a strong attraction for Middle Eastern women and Noor was a rare Lebanese beauty. The power of seduction was but one of the girls’ exceptional abilities; they also made perfect dinnertime companions. Roger went on to describe the dilemma which plagued his workforce.
“Many of our boys are unable to handle the stress of the job,” sighed Roger. “They claim all that pressure has even caused marital problems…deteriorating health and all that other crap.”
A black and white roasted Chilean sea bass fillets dish with Rakkyo sat there beckoning Noor, yet she listened attentively and with genuine interest. “Well, it seems normal. It is a very high-pressured industry after all.
“It’s getting out of control, darling. Out of f***ing control!”
Noor tasted the fish then took a sip from her wine glass. “Why not study this whole phenomenon? Not just workplace happiness but the underlying motivations of your staff and their ability to cope with day-to-day pressure. You can take a scientific approach.”
“We do. We have a massive team of HR personnel taking up over two floors. This is one of the things they’re supposed to do,” shaking his head in frustration.
“No, I mean properly study it. From a psychological standpoint. A programme to study ways of increasing your workers resilience to stress so they don’t quit and leave to become yoga instructors. So they work harder and longer.” More wine is poured into her glass and she sips it slowly before getting up and heading toward the bedroom. “The military does this. They’ve had to help soldiers cope after battle.” Noor takes another sip of wine. “You want to know why you keep asking for me after all these years?,” she chuckles. “I understand how your mind works and what motivates you. I know what relaxes you. I know the things that preoccupy you. I know about your upbringing and schooling. That’s why I can make sure you will never stop seeing me.” A minute later she emerges from the bedroom more comfortably dressed. “Commission a group of psychologists and make it their sole purpose to find ways of keeping bankers on the job and hungrier than ever.” She lights a cigarette. “Oh, and it’s time for desert.”
The following day the blueprint for the CBF was formed.