I was three days into the job, my PowerPoint skills were, let’s be honest, of sperm stage proficiency and I was still coming to grips with my new role. To my major disadvantage, my colleague responsible for bringing me up to speed on all matters ‘investment banking’ was away on holiday. What could possibly go wrong while she was away?
--> VERY important lesson I quickly learned: at any moment in time something can turn your world inside out in an investment bank. The stakes are so high and the numbers so large that the pressure cannot always be contained. An eruption is always near.
I was in the midst of carrying out an analysis of a sub-Saharan African electricity company – following a request from the team in Johannesburg – when a team of three bankers who had flown in from Dubai that morning marched right up to my seat. Correction: three twats (a derogatory term, especially popular in Britain) marched right up to my seat. The head of my team was trailing behind.
- Betrand: a very short, Napoleon-looking, forty something year old, French married banker who always looked disheveled, wore invariably creased shirts and was renowned for chasing women half his age when he was on business trips. He was the most senior of the three amigos
- Karim: a tall, dark Lebanese banker with zero skill but 100% effective, bullshitting ability. Back then getting a job in the Dubai office was easy. If you could pronounce Arabic names with a very strong accent all the American and British senior managers thought you were Lawrence of Arabia, i.e. able to deliver the region to the bank’s revenue center on a silver platter, with a bit of Tabbouleh on the side. Non-Arabs couldn’t tell the difference between Hummous and Abu Dhabi so as long as you were of Middle Eastern origin you could play the system as you wished (note: this trend still continues to this day)
- Francesco: a strange looking Italian chap with a massive nose who was known for his hard work ethic. Formerly a consultant, he was essentially the workhorse of the group in Dubai. Had no charisma whatsoever which was unusual for an Italian
So the three amigos began barking orders.
Bertrand: “We have half an hour to submit the presentation. Open it.”
No ‘hello’s, ‘I’m such and such person’, ‘welcome to the team’, etc.
The ibanker: “I’m sorry, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
My line manger: (with a raised voice). “Your inbox!”
My heart beat began to rise nice and slowly. I brought up Microsoft Outlook. A new e-mail popped in less than 2 minutes ago. Was I supposed to have checked e-mails on a second-by-second basis? It’s a message from an Associate in Dubai. The subject line states ‘URGENT’ and contains a PowerPoint presentation.
Bertrand: “Let’s go through the slides. Hurry!”
So I have four relatively senior people on my back. I can sense by their tone, look and countenance that they’re very tense. In turn, I begin to stress even more which doesn’t help the task at hand --> editing the PowerPoint presentation.
They’re all gathered very closely around my chair. So close I can smell everyone’s perfume. Especially, Bertrand”s stink – smelly frog must have forgotten to wear anti-perspirant.
Bertrand: “Ok, start going through the presentation. I say ‘next’ you go to next slide. D’accord? Ok then. Next. Next. Next. Next. Next. Skip these blah-blah slides. Ok. Next. Wait, change the Y-axis units in the bottom-left chart.”
The ibanker: (what the f@ck? I have no idea how to do this) “How do you want me to change it?”
Bertrand: (raising his voice) “Ecoutes (listen in French), just change it. This needs to be sent ASAP. Come on. Look at the bottom-right chart. Make it similar.”
My heart beat steadily rises.
My mind starts racing. I’m trying to figure out what to do, as quickly as possible, but I can’t help stressing. I feel myself losing control of my mouse – the cursor doesn’t land in the right place in one go…I keep overshooting. Shit! They must wonder how I made the recruitment cycle. All these silly thoughts are running through my mind. Get a grip, it’s just a freaking job, I tell myself. I double-click on the chart, right-click on the Y-axis and click on ‘Format Axis’.
Bertrand: (moving closer to me and literally speaking into my ear) “Mec (dude in French), you realise we have a deadline?”
Francesco: (trying to help) “Hit the scale tab, change major unit to 5000, hit the number tab, uncheck comma separator…”
This went on for 20 minutes, though it felt like the time it would take to read War and Peace. To make matters worse, on several occasions during this session, which I would to call a living nightmare, Bertrand and Karim began arguing with each other over the pricing slide. This of course trickled down to me and the orders were barked louder and louder.
It was a very pressurized moment, made all the worse as it was day 3 on the job. As cliche as it sounds I really hit the ground running. In fact you could say I hit the ground sprinting away from starved tigers while having a rib-eye steak taped to my ass.
Welcome to the jungle
It certainly did not help that:
1) This presentation was for a multi-billion dollar deal. The more zeroes you add to a deal, in general, the more stressful the environment becomes – no shit!
2) I didn’t understand half the finance lingo thrown around (most of the time in my face). Felt like being in a foreign country
Nowadays, I’d go through a similar scenario calm as the Buddha post-Shiatsu massage. But it was a new job, new role, new start.