At any one time, I may advise anywhere from a few to ten families, each with a net worth above USD1billion. They are mostly based in London because anyone who lives here knows that the city simply attracts a lot of money, is far more international than most other gateway cities, is geographically central, has an undeniable prestige about it and so on and so forth. Having said that, some of these families also have bases abroad, depending on where they are from or spend a lot of their time.

The sheer amount of wealth these families possess is flabbergasting. Few people actually know who they are and what they own exactly. They not only have drivers, private jets, yachts and other goodies the rest of us come close to via music videos, magazines and movies, but also an army of specialists such as private bankers, security companies (to look after their personal safety and that of their assets), house staff and more.

Often, their money is managed through what’s called a ‘family office’, an organization that manages the wealth of an ulta-high net worth individual or a family. A family office can be comprised of a handful of people, including the individual or family to whom the wealth belongs, or twenty or more people. It depends.

Different families different cultures

Family offices allow very few people into their circle for obvious reasons.

Those I presently work with are a colourful bunch. They include: a secretive English family with its hands in multiple sectors in the UK and Europe; an Indian family which owns some of the most luxurious hotel assets in India; a funny Swiss individual whose significant wealth came from technology investments; the family office of one of Saudi Arabia’s wealthiest merchant families; a powerful Azeri family with billions in assets; a Mongolian ultra high net worth individual with, amongst other things, mining, hospitality and banking assets; an American family that is one of the largest real estate owners in the nation.

Through my work, I have come to know many more family offices from all over the world. Some I interact with regularly, in person either in London or another international city, while others I see once in a while.

Family offices differ from larger, more institutionalised organizations in so many ways that it would be far too difficult for me to show it one post (more on family offices in later posts). One chief example I could quickly provide, however, is how they go about investing their money. Let’s set aside the type (debt or equity), sector (oil & gas or technology), size (USD5m or 50m) and structure of investments they make, and touch on the process they go through in order to arrive at a decision to proceed ahead.

I’ll provide two examples: [READ MORE…]

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Dear readers,

First of all, I wanted to take the opportunity to thank you for taking the time to read my posts and engaging with me. I’ve met some fantastic people since launching the blog. I’ve also received lots of funny, quirky and unusual e-mails from many of you. It’s been interesting! I look forward to meeting many more of you in the near future.

The communication exchange has greatly helped guide the makeup of my posts.

Secondly, I wanted to update you on the direction the blog is going to take starting very soon. I will be adding, in addition to posts similar to the ones which have already been published, a new type of post which will focus on strategies, hacks and tips relating to business and personal life.  I believe they may be of use to you. You don’t have to be an investment banker to benefit and gain from that advice or draw useful conclusions from it. Even a blogger or entrepreneur could benefit from this new type of post. [READ MORE…]

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Once upon a time, Roman gladiators fought against one another in massive arenas surrounded by the deafening cries of thousands of blood-thirsty spectators who craved to see no less than blood carpet the ground, gouged eyes brandished like a cowboy’s lasso and decapitated heads affixed to the sharp end of swords like kebabs on skewers.

One would need to momentarily turn a blind eye to the fierce brutality of what was once upon a time considered a magnificent sport, if they are to truly perceive the noble elements of the game. Just as the crowds used to. For in their hearts, the audience longed for more than just the sight of blood. With determined eyes, they religiously followed each swing of the mighty sword as it cut through the air toward their opponent’s body. With each breath the audience impatiently waited to witness the manifestation of ideals and virtues which long confirmed the elegance of the sport.

The crowd held strong admiration for those who fought valiantly and displayed great courage. When a gladiator put on a good show and revealed integrity, he or she was showered with gifts, honours, sexual partners and even freedom. In other words, the gladiator received a bonus.

Though those days have long gone, except in the imagination of a few poor yet ambitious Hollywood scriptwriters aspiring to bring to life the next great Ancient Roman blockbuster, some practices remain.

Just as many forms of punishment, once open to the public, moved behind closed doors, so too have some of today’s modern gladiator fights disappeared from the public eye. Particularly those of financial gladiators.

The punishments, however, remain. Even though they are out of sight…

Origins and the present

Gladiators usually came from one of two sources. They were captured soldiers who had fought and lost against Rome. Or they were slaves. Through their status as gladiators they would have the opportunity to redeem themselves and potentially attain freedom. Perhaps even fame.  [READ MORE…]

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Sometimes it’s the painful, annoying and ridiculous things that happen to you at work that turn out to be positively important ingredients in your personal development.

New joiners beware

I can tell you that for me and all of my former colleagues in ibanking, and I’d say many people who work for a large powerhouse investment bank, there was no instruction manual to refer to when, on our first day and not long after we seated ourselves comfortably on what was to become an extension of our rears, some senior banker appeared unannounced and barked an order to have this or that done “NOW!”

You were nearly always approached with everything but a gentle or friendly “hello”, “excuse me”, “would you mind”, “can you please” or any of that fluffy, time-wasting nonsense. There were exceptions of course, when someone put their hand on your shoulder, smiled and kindly asked you to do something for them. But those events which were few and far in between occurred when you daydreamed for a few seconds at your desk as a coping mechanism before another urgent deadline landed on your desk like a meteor.

Generally, someone just commanded you to “get X done in 10 minutes”. And trust me when a managing director stares right at you with bloodshot eyes, a threatening open mouth and bulging neck veins you begin to stress very quickly. And as soon as he’s done giving his request and turns around you get to work and you call on every single cell in your brain to get their shit together and perform at 100%.

Parkinson’s law

There’s a saying that goes, work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. That’s Parkinson’s law. The time pressure and urgency to complete a task of epic propotions in 10 minutes leads you to become more efficient than you’ve ever thought imaginable.

But it’s not just about a 10-minute deadline which normally takes five people working together an hour to complete. What makes the situation highly challenging and significantly more stressful, is that you’re not given directions on how to do the task. Nothing.

No directions? Isn’t that counterintuitive? Given ibankers work on such important deals wouldn’t it make sense to be instructed properly on what to do? You may ask yourself plenty questions like these. The reason why instructions are not given will be the subject of another article. However, for the purposes of this post, I’d like to highlight how much of a good thing it can be for you not to receive any direction.

If you look past the momentary hell it puts you through and the spike in stress levels your body must adjust to, not to mention the greying of two or three additional hairs on your scalp or the probable onset of an ulcer, it can actually be a very good thing for you in the long run. Before things get good there will be pain. More often than not, lots of it.

Does anyone really think that the superior skills and abilities an ibanker comes to possess through years of experience on the job are intangibles acquired by way of a comfortable and soothing journey? Perhaps similar to a lovely evening stroll along the beach somewhere in North Goa? If only.

Project PORTO

One could fill thousands upon thousands of pages with incidences of tasks assigned with no direction or instruction. As I am in Portugal at present, I am reminded of the time Adam, a senior investment banker covering Portugese banks, appeared at my desk one fine Wednesday morning. [READ MORE…]

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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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It’s showtime. You’ve finished a presentation, printed a copy in colour and placed it, correctly stapled, on the Managing Director’s desk.

Enter the Managing Director (MD).

The MD calls you over. Pointing at the document before him he asks, “this is the final draft?”

Hesitatingly you reply. “Yes.”

The MD makes himself comfortable, throws one quick glance at you with a look which unequivocally says ‘you’d better have gone through this doc carefully at least 50 times before putting it before my royal ass’, and then begins going through the document. Having done this for over 15 years, it has become like bread and butter for him – errors, mistakes and typos practically jump out at him as would a Buddhist monk at a hedge fund conference.

Then the moment comes. You’re looking over the MD’s shoulder when, as he’s carefully perusing a slide, you notice that you’ve misspelled the name of the client in one of the paragraphs. Absolute catastrophe. This kind of mistake generally warrants outright humiliation in front of the whole team. You nearly faint. Without warning a drop of sweat descends down your forehead and then crashes onto your MD’s back leaving a momentary wet stain. He senses something and violently turns and looks up at you. You return his forceful stare with a puny smile which an onlooker may mistake for constipation. He quickly turns round again and resumes his critique. He is about to detect your error. It’s imminent. Meanwhile you’ve shortened your life by 2-3 days from the stress of being caught.

The MD cries out: “What the f@&k is this!”

The torture of the wait is over. He will unleash hell but at least you’ll be out of your misery. [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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Investment bankers drop out of the business daily and there are plenty of causes for this unfortunate phenomenon. Poor performance tops the list and, come on, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t. Every young banker knows what she or he signs up for before they start. If you don’t perform as you’re expected to you’ll be fired. Very fast.

Another cause of departures has to do with a nasty case of bad luck. If the bank is getting ready to lay off people you could get the short end of the stick. It happens. Investment banks lay off people without mercy. No exaggeration.

Then there are also self-led exits. Say the job becomes so damn overwhelming that you cannot hold up the weight of your responsibilities anymore and so you just give up. You throw in the towel and decide it’s time to get out. Who knows, maybe the real reason is that you want to spend more time with your friends and family; you can’t take any more crap from your boss; or simply because, as you build your 19,000th financial model, it dawns on you that you’ll remember the best years of your life having been spent with Mr. Excel. Whatever your reasons there’s a little trick that can make life a little bit easier at the bank, save you from getting a few additional grey hairs and help you reduce – but just a little – the labour abuse that’s an inevitable part of ibanking. It’s a two-letter word which conveys one of the most powerful human messages. An expression of refusal or denial whose mastery becomes a rite of passage for all successful ibankers who remain in the business and go on to attain great success, perhaps even one day grace the  cover of the Financial Times. That word is “No”.

1) The desire or need to abuse is the natural state of affairs in the jungle of ibanking

A jungle is a wild mass of vegetation but is also a place where animals struggle to survive. You must have thick skin to endure. The tiger doesn’t hesitate to devour a wild pig the moment the latter falls in view. It doesn’t think about little piggy having piggy desires and piggy ambitions and wearing piggy pijamas. It will simply rip the prey in half, walk away and then take a nap, thinking nothing of the slaughter which occurred moments earlier. Piggy was just a means to survival.

Similarly, in an investment bank many bankers won’t give a damn about you or how hard you slave away. You’re a means for them. Your very presence elicits, in them, a desire to give you work. And regardless of how awful, stressed or agitated you look they’ll pile on more work on your plate if they can and won’t think twice about it. I’m not saying they’re heartless bastards. It’s just the nature of the business and people are there to make money. They do what they have to. In fact, it’s very likely that the abuse being dished out was done just as badly to the guy who is doing it to you. And in time you’ll do it to the school of  fresh-faced goldfish that joins the firm.

2) The naturally weak will attract more predators for they are easy prey

Ruthless struggle is part of jungle life. And easy prey is, well let’s be honest, easy. If you’re a starved feline you chase the slow, helpless creature (i.e. meal).

In an ibank’s junior class there will always be a number of young grasshoppers eager to please all. Sadly, in their attempt to demonstrate eagerness, this demographic will be seen as willing and subservient servants. And surely they will be treated as such. They are generally incapable of refusing requests, which in a bank tend to come across more so as commands – remember, ibankers are assertive.

Therefore, when a junior ibanker is identified as a “yes” man or woman they will very likely be given a steady flow of work. More so than their more defensive peers. The “yes” people in time become quite miserable. [READ MORE…]

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Of Religion And Banking

It is said that Paris Berkeley Capital’s private banking business owns a highly secured and closely monitored chateau in an undisclosed location in Normandy, France where four floors below ground level there is a candle-lit corridor that leads to a stone spiral staircase which in turn takes you further down to a large rectangular hall guarded round-the-clock by Swiss-trained security officers.

Inside this mysterious hall – know as the ‘library’ – rests a large collection of archives which collectively tell the history of investment banking, dating back to antiquity. It is even said that some of the oldest investment banking deal agreements are held within this highly secure room. They outline, in great detail, various monumental transactions ranging from the financing of the great pyramids of Egypt to the exploits of some of the most famous explorers of our past, including Hernán Cortés.

In one section of the library there is long shelf labeled ‘religion’. The remarkable thing about it is that on that very shelf is a scroll which proves that it was in fact investment banking which helped catalyse the beginning of what later became known as the monotheistic religions.

The scroll is titled The Persian and The Shepherd.

The Persian

Story has it that thousands of years ago a young, handsome Persian man of humble origins set out on a journey across the world to discover the secret to great wealth. He, above all else, desired vast riches.

Driven by a deep-seated desire to find the truth, he spent fifteen years travelling from place to place taking odd jobs wherever he could. Everywhere he went, including as far out as India and Egypt, he carefully observed the habits and idiosyncrasies of the very rich and successful. His goal was to glean as much possible from them in order to discover what was responsible for these individuals’ vast successes. He would then do the same and hopefully become a very rich man himself one day. His was a quest filled with purpose.

To his frustration, however, the Persian could not pinpoint one key, defining characteristic that accounted for all the money very rich people made. The myriad of wealthy merchants and businessmen he met differed from one another greatly. The great South Indian spice trader whose floors the Persian cleaned was a completely different man from the Arabian gold collector whose shoes he shined and the Chinese silk merchant whose harem he taught Farsi (Persian).

Alas, the Persian was no closer to understanding the secret of success than when he set out on his mission fifteen years ago.

That is, until he met the wise Shepherd of Bagdad. [READ MORE…]

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