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. 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. His time was divided working between London and New York. Certainly, it was commonplace to believe that he was living the ‘life’.
The investment banker was in Mumbai on business.
It was Friday night and, having spent the last three days working from before sunrise until well past sunset, he decided to abandon the palatial Taj Mahal Palace hotelTaj Mahal Palace hotel and go out for a drink. The polished concierge enthusiastically recommended a well-known Mumbai institution only steps away from the hotel called Leopold Cafe.
“The restaurant serves delectable dishes and popular drinks,” said the concierge with a head wobble. “And it is frequented by writers, artists, travellers, business people, Bollywood actors and even escaped convicts.”
Wearing his Navy Blue jacket, khakis and burgundy loafers, the investment banker set out to enjoy a drink or two and unwind a bit.
Arriving at the entrance, he discovered a vibrant atmosphere inside. The unusually mixed crowd of customers appeared to be having a great time. This is precisely the kind of place to get mind off of work.
However much he tried, though, he couldn’t spot a free table anywhere.
“Won’t take long,” said the restaurant, shouting from across the floor.
“How long?” said, too softly for the host to hear, the investment banker while pointing to his watch.
The host was too busy surveying the restaurant to respond right away. He walked over a minute later.
“Just chill out where you are. Wont be long.”
A few minutes passed. The investment banker began to grow impatient. His eyes darted around the restaurant until he finally noticed a couple whose table was being cleared. He immediately caught the host’s attention, pointing to the table and cried “What about that table?”
The host purposely ignored the investment banker.
A few moments passed and the host returned.
“A table is ready. But you have to share it with someone. Ok?”
It was a question and a statement.
The investment banker was taken aback, not particularly excited about having to share a table with a complete stranger. He looked down at his watch. It was nearly 10pm. This will be a nuisance. But he was too tired to scout another venue.
“Look around. We’re busy. It’s Friday night and I gotta fill all the seats I can,” said the host, before pointing right over the banker’s left shoulder. “You can sit with him.”
The investment banker turned around to find an unassuming young man, probably in his late twenties, sporting a scruffy beard and wearing baggy blue jeans, a white t-shirt and a pair of old white Converse shoes. His potential table partner was holding what appeared to be a worn-out, brown leather journal in his right hand. He noticed a picture of an elephant on the cover. Great, I’m going to have drinks with a backpacker on a five-dollar-a-day budget.
The banker turned back around to face the host and nodded reluctantly in agreement. The host, in turn, looked over at the second man who offered an approving smile.
“Follow me,” said the the host as he rapidly moves toward the free table.
The two young men followed the host and took their seats amidst the restaurant’s exhilarating ambiance. The investment banker immediately took out his Blackberry. A waiter came round and placed two menus on the table. The second man picked up a menu and kindly offered it to the investment banker.
“Thank you,” said the banker as he grabbed the menu without lifting his gaze from his smartphone.
The waiter came round again. Sensing his presence, the banker, still staring at his blackberry, ordered a gin and tonic, with Bombay Sapphire. The second man asked for a Kingfisher beer.
A few minutes later the waiter returned with the drinks. He asked both men what they’d like to eat. They’ll both just be having drinks tonight.
The investment banker finally put away his blackberry – though not far from reach – and picked up his glass. The man across the table followed suit. They smiled politely at one another and both took sips from their glass.
“So what brings you to Mumbai,” said the investment banker.
“I’m just here to enjoy the city, said the second man with glowing eyes. “I love the buzz in Mumbai.”
The banker smiled. He’s delighted with himself for having rightly identified a travel bum.
Returning the question, the second man asked the banker what brought him to Mumbai.
“One of my clients is about to take over one of India’s largest media companies. I’m … well, to make a long story short…here to ensure the execution is flawless.”
“Are you an investment banker?” said the second man.
“That’s right,” said the banker with a proud grin. “M&A banker, to be precise. We work on the most strategic issues a company faces. Selling an asset, acquiring one, so on and so forth. So I speak to big guys like CEOs and CFOs, you know.”
“It can be. But I work very long hours and it takes a toll.”
The banker let out a long exhale and quickly checked his Blackberry to make sure he hadn’t received any new e-mails.
“I know what you mean. I’ve got a few friends who have demanding jobs with very long hours. They work in advertising and fashion. It’s remarkable the number of hours they put in and the constant pressure they deal with. It’s no life at -.”
The banker jumps in.
“Listen,” said banker, with the tone of a person listen to someone try to refute the law of gravity. “I’m not trying to play the comparison game but, ummm, I’m pretty sure that if you look at my schedule and if you knew my responsibilities, day to day, you’ll think your buddies are working at Club Med. It’s a completely different game. Different rules. Different world.”
“That’s cutthroat,” said the second man. “Must be very stressful.”
The banker’s nails were badly chewed and not even the Rolex he wore could take attention away from his nails – or what was left of them.
“Stress comes with the job. But you learn to handle it. And of course you’re compensated for it. Very nicely, too. Not everyone can do it, to be honest with you.” The investment banker takes another sip.” So, tell me, what do you do?”
“I’m a blogger,” said the second man.
The investment bankers remained silent for a second. Another blogger making fifteen dollars a post. How sad. “Huh … wow. That’s cool. So what do you … blog about?” He felt proud to have used the verb ‘to blog’ in a sentence for the very first time.
“Social media news and information mainly. But I’m planning to broaden the scope of the blog a bit,” said the blogger.
“That’s great. At the end of the day at least you don’t have to deal with all the stress I go through. Cheers.” The investment banker raised his glass.
The blogger followed suit.
“Doesn’t the stress get to you? I mean, do you ever think about doing something different? Maybe less stressful and more fun? Something you’re passionate about?”
The investment banker hesitated briefly.
“Sure I do. Less stress would be fantastic,” said the banker. He pointed to his scalp. “I used to have a full set of hair.” He took a long sip from his glass. “Look, I’d love to launch an Internet company. I think I’d be good at it. But the kind of money I make now is very difficult to walk away from. I’m sacrificing passion for wealth. Later, when I’ve got all the money I need I’ll pursue all my passions. Just think it’s tough to make a decent living online unless you’re on to something real big, no offense.”
None taken, assured the blogger.
“Actually, you can make decent money online nowadays.”
Feeling a little embarrassed the investment banker explained to the blogger that he was accustomed to a certain lifestyle.
“Decent money is relative. I’m sure for some a few thousand dollars a month is enough but that doesn’t do much for me. I live in a very posh part of town. Drive a fancy car. I’m very ambitious.”
A waiter came round and both men ordered another round.
“So how long do you think it will take before you get to where you want?” said the blogger.
The investment banker smiled and moved a little closer to the blogger. He liked being asked the question.
“First, I have to become a Managing Director. That’s top priority. Then, the second step is to become Head of Investment Banking for my sector. The next move is to get promoted to Global Head of Investment Banking. Now that won’t be easy at all but it’s possible. I reckon I could get there by my mid forties. The step after that is even more important. I’ll take my team, leave the bank and establish a boutique investment bank. Then I’ll spend the next five or ten years building it up into a respectable financial institution. Finally, I’ll sell the firm for millions and start living the good life.”
The blogger raised an eyebrow.
“The good life? What does that mean?”
The investment banker took a few seconds to think it over.
“First of all, whatever I do afterwards I’ll make sure to represent me, myself and I.”
“Represent yourself?” said the blogger.
The investment banker went on to explain how everything he did and said was done in order to represent the investment bank he worked for. He projected the investment bank’s views, ethos and culture but never his own.
“So you want to represent your own beliefs and ideas that you’re passionate about,” said the blogger.
“Exactly!” said the banker with eyes wide open.
“I’d like to travel properly,” said the banker.
“Isn’t travel a big part of your job?”
The investment banker shook his head.
“Not proper travel. I do travel but I don’t decide when and where. I’m told where to go. Often a day or two beforehand. And I never get to see the places I visit. I go from airport to hotel room to meeting places then back to the hotel room and then off to the airport. I want to experience the places I visit. I don’t want to have to return on a set date. And no more one-week vacations. I want a month off, or better yet three.”
“Don’t you get two weeks off normally,” said the blogger.
The investment banker lets out a laugh.
“That’s rarely the case. Even when it happens its not always a real holiday. Come on. I’m included in all emails, a hundred a day will come in at times. And, you can’t help but read them all. You’re expected to. I’m also called regularly. Look, even if I’m not emailed or called it takes over a week to switch off properly. By the time I get into the holiday mood it’s time to return or think about the crap waiting for me in the office.” The banker pauses to have a sip. “Listen, I can tell you everything about Mumbai from a traveler’s standpoint. Everything. But that’s because I’ve read it on inflight magazines many times. But I’ve never seen any of the city. And I’ve been here nearly a dozen times in the last nine months alone.”
The blogger couldn’t quite understand why someone would delay enjoying life for so long with little guarantee that things would be just right that far into the future.
The investment banker’s phone rang It was his boss in London. He became agitated, excused himself and stepped out of the restaurant.
“Yes, the presentation went well. The client is very happy. We’ll have the documents signed on Monday. Sure. Bye.”
His heart was pounding so he stayed outside a minute longer before stepping back inside. As he made his way in, his phone went off again and he came to a sudden halt. He felt the tension rising and prayed he wouldn’t have to stay up again and work through the night. Thank God. It was his friend calling from Paris. He breathed a sigh of relief and answered the phone. They chatted for a short while. The banker told his friend about Mumbai and how he had been seated at a restaurant with a pleasant “hippie blogger”.
“I wish I could have a carefree life like this guy,” said the banker. “Just cruising without a worry in the world.”
He finished his conversation and returned to the table.
“So when do you return home to work?” said the banker.
The blogger smiled.
“I am working. But I’m also on holiday at the same time. I can work from anywhere. If I need to use an office then I can do so.”
“You’re actually earning money?” said the banker, slightly confused.
The blogger smiled again.
“Yes, the blog earns money. Again, I’m location independent. Sure, I wasn’t earning much when I started writing posts from my bedroom in the UK a few years ago but things have picked up now. I’m in a good place. And I’m passionate about what I do so it’s cool.”
“I admire that. You’re doing what you love.” The investment banker reached into his jacket pocket and took out his wallet. “Need to be more like you.” He places a couple of notes on the table. “I need to head back and do a bit of work. Drinks are on me.”
“No, let’s split it,” said the blogger.
“It’s fine. Save the money for breakfast,” said the banker, before standing up. “It was a pleasure.”
“Likewise,” said the blogger.
Both men shook hands. The investment banker returned to his hotel.
San Francisco (4 years later)
The investment banker had just been transferred to the bank’s San Francisco office and his first assignment was to pitch to work on a deal which was the talk of town. America’s largest media had recently expressed an interest to acquire a social media news site for over USD200 million and the bank was hoping to advise the seller and his team. The banker knew little about the company apart that they had a staff of 23 people in two offices: New York and San Francisco.
The investment banker joined the rest of the team to sit in on the meeting with the social media company’s executives. They walked into the conference room to find, seated around an impressive oval mahogany table, a middle-age man who introduced himself as a lawyer and an attractive woman whose business card read Chief Operating Officer. Everyone took their seats.
Something caught the investment banker’s attention. On the table in front of the empty seat directly across from him he noticed a distinct leather journal.
The door opened and a man entered the room.
“Apologies, I had to pop out and use the bathroom,” said the man as he took a seat directly across from the investment banker. “Hello, everyone. I’m the founder and CEO of the company.”
The investment banker instantaneously recognised him. It was the blogger he met in Mumbai. His jaw dropped.