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 in some hipster 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 as they are in the office working away against multiple stroke-inducing deadlines. Secondly, because it speaks for itself. Just look at the devastation written all over their wearied faces.
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, under a desk. 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 consecutive 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.
Once upon a time there lived a diligent, thirty year old investment banker who was known to do little other than work. More than handsomely rewarded by the investment bank for his contributions, he was never short of money and had a penchant for luxurious living. In fact, he demanded the very best of all things. The finest French wine, Savile Row tailored suits and watches only the very best Swiss watchmakers could concoct. He divided his time working between London and New York. It was commonplace to believe that he was living the life.
The investment banker was in Mumbai on business.
It’s Friday night and, having spent the last three days working from before sunrise until well past sunset, he decides to abandon the palatial Taj Mahal Palace hotel and go out for a drink. The polished concierge enthusiastically recommends a well-known Mumbai institution only steps away from the hotel called Leopold Cafe.
“The restaurant serves delectable dishes and popular drinks and is frequented by writers, artists, travellers, business people, Bollywood actors and even escaped convicts,” says the concierge with a head bobble.
Wearing his Navy Blue jacket, khakis and burgundy loafers, the investment banker sets out to enjoy a drink or two and unwind a bit.
In essence, an investment banker resembles a magician; his greatest trick is the disappearance and reappearance of money, an illusion he so aptly executes with the backing of nicely-designed and immaculate literature and an arsenal of free-flowing industry jargon intelligible mainly to people in his circle; the investment banker contrasts with the magician, however, in his finale; the reappearance seldom matches the original, for he lubricates the passage of capital from one hand to another with very sticky fingers.
-The iBanker, 14 December 2010
(Clark Gable, American film actor)
Niklaus hailed from the land of the mighty vikings. With his medium-length locks, perfectly ironed shirts and slicked back hair, in line with NASA aerodynamic standards, he stood out in the banker crowd.
He wore a Hollywood photograph smile. On a moment’s notice he’d summon the neurons in that brain of his responsible for the formation of the well-rehearsed smile/eye-squint/eyebrow combination. Just like Clark Gable’s classic Hollywood look. It appeared every time someone called out his name. He’d never raise his head too fast. It was fully controlled. I always thought he was made for film.
Niklaus belonged to that particular school of thought which believes that you should always smile and exude overflowing enthusiasm for the job, while looking picture perfect at all times. Holding true to the pillars of that movement, he believed, meant senior management would always want you around. Consequently he avoided negative and unhappy bankers like the plague. His enthusiasm for the job was boundless. If I stumble upon a $20 bill on the street I’m giddy. If Niklaus notices that the title on a presentation slide is font size 17 rather than 18, like all the other pages, he’ll clap his hand. Score!
Niklaus has blonde hair. If he were muscular, tall and fearless he’d be viking.
Oh and he loved women. Especially in short dresses. But what did he love more than a hot girl in a short dress? A hot girl in a short dress who was tipsy. What did he like even more? His hair.
(Photo credit: jay8085)
The first time I saw Bruce was at an interview with the investment I ended up joining. I was in one of the many rooms on the floor of the building reserved either for client meetings, where bankers professionally bullshitted various companies into paying out exorbitant fees, or for candidate interviews, where new recruits vied to become cogs in the banking machine.
An immaculate room
It was a finely decorated room. Everything about the setup, from the gold-framed paintings mounted on the wall to the mahogany round table in the middle of the room, gave off an utterly clear signal: large sums of money are the core of this institution. I felt I had to maintain a perfect, upright posture when in the room. Even the staff that sat at reception and welcomed me upon arrival made me feel like an actor in this grand play.
Receptionist: “Good morning sir. Would you kindly follow me to your designated room?”
I imagined bright-eyed, young candidates sitting in this very room, awed by the setting and dreaming of nearby riches. Turned soft as silly putty by the time the interviewer stepped in.
In one corner of the room was a table with coffee, tea and ginger biscuits. I peered closely at the goodies. Not just any tea: Jasmine Pearl (according to the labeling, highly recommended at lunchtime), Moroccan Mint and White Tea from the Fujian province of China. They sure didn’t mess around. I pocketed a few tea bags, sat down and waited for the interviewer to enter. [READ MORE…]
There are different reasons why individuals become investment bankers (ibankers). Why they yearn to practice the sacred art of investment banking (ibanking). Though some people enter this esoteric world of high finance by pure chance, and with little effort, they are anomalies. In the vast majority of cases deep-seated motivations propel the uninitiated to persevere until the gates of entry to that prestigious world open before them and they finally break into investment banking.
Most of those motivations can be grouped into categories. They explain why so many bankers agree to work unusually long hours, put up with abnormally high levels of stress and sacrifice so much personal and leisure time. Take a look at the faces of people who have been in the business for over 10 years, especially in a front office role. Many wear their sacrifice on their face. Sadly, few of them realise this.
Those of you currently in the business, next time you attend the Monday morning meeting just take a nice, long look around the room at the seniors bankers present. Is it not unusual that many of them are probably 10 years younger than they look? I know it took me less than a year at the bank to give birth to most of the grey hairs I presently sport.
So why do so many people accept, amongst other things, the premature ageing that comes with the territory?
Hypnosis: dangling a shiny pendulum
For many there’s a psychological attraction. After being mesmerized by the words and countenance of recent graduates in polished suits at campus recruiting events dreamy-eyed candidates are propelled to put forth an application. I recall one banking workshop where the speaker, a young banker, left his key chain on the panel table before getting up to speak at a podium. Every one of us noticed the Ferrari emblem of the prancing horse. When the workshop came to an end, my friend Noah nearly trampled two girls as he ran up to speak to the banker. Never mind that the speaker has had stress-induced diarrhoea for the past month, working round the clock to make a deal happen, and has been literally pissing out his ass every morning at work.