I’ve always appreciated the rationale behind sending a grey haired banker to meet with a grey haired client. If they’re both in their 50s or 60s then they’re on the same wavelength, so to speak.
And the reality is that some people prefer to sit with an individual their own age, rather than a younger man or woman who hasn’t been around as long. Who perhaps has yet to learn some of life’s big lessons. That’s perfectly fine.
But sending a senior banker just for the sake of having an old geezer in a room with a client doesn’t make sense. I’d seen it go wrong before. Like the time I was working at Paris Berkeley Capital and the Chairman of one of the Arab Gulf’s largest banks announced he was in town.
It was a morning like any other in London’s Canary Wharf district. The weather was grey and overcast. Everyone inside the bank was stressed.
I received an e-mail from Abdul Aziz, the Chairman. He addressed me and copied in my line manager, who was out of town on holiday.
In his message, Abdul Aziz wrote, “I’m in London and would like to invite the two of you to dinner.”
Cool. I’m looking forward to it.
Within minutes, my phone rang. Who is this? I didn’t recognise the number. I quickly looked up the country code. Indonesia? Oh, it’s from Bali. My line manager was on holiday there with his family. I googled the time there. It was midnight. Don’t you have anything better to do, like make love to your wife? I picked up the phone.
“Don’t reply to Abdul Aziz’s mail,” he said without bothering to say hello. “I’m going to take care of it. I’ll ring you back in 5 minutes,” he said.
Take care of what?. Dinner seemed a straightforward affair to me.
A few minutes later my phone rang again. I answered.
“I’m going to ask Tom to meet with Abdul Aziz,” said my line manager.
“Tom?” I asked. “From New York?”
“But he doesn’t cover the Middle East. He works in the New York office,” I said.
“That’s fine. He’s in town for a couple of days and I’ve been told that Tom should go to dinner.”
A Managing Director in our New York office, Tom had probably travelled out of the US a handful of times and certainly never anywhere near the Middle East. Though a skilled banker, he had the cultural IQ of a beer can. What he did have a lot of, on the other hand, were grey hairs.
And little did Tom know it was the holy month of Ramadan and that Abdul Aziz was fasting. And that dinner that evening was to be more than just a business discussion. I’d say a special occasion.
I didn’t mention a thing. Screw them.
That evening, banker and client met in an Argentine restaurant in Central London.
Tom and Abdul Aziz greeted each other with a handshake and a smile before following the hostess to their table, where they took a seat.
Several minutes later a waiter arrived. “What can I get you?”
“After you”, said Tom to Abdul Aziz.
“You first. I insist,” said Abdul Aziz.
Tom smiled and proceeded. “I’m kinda hungry so I’ll be having two starters,” he said with a mischievous smile. “I’ll take the smoked ham and…uh…ah, yes, the chorizo sausage. And for my main course…oh, what the hell, I’ll take a pork belly. You can’t say no to good pork,” he smiled, looking Abdul Aziz straight in the eye, completely ignorant of the situation.
Abdul Aziz raised an eyebrow.
“Thank you,” said the waiter before turning to Abdul Aziz to take the other guest’s order.
Once all food orders were collected, the waiter continued. “What do you gentlemen wish to drink?”
“I’ll just have some water please,” said Abdul Aziz.
“Still or sparkling?” asked the waiter.
“Still okay with you?” Abul Aziz asked Tom.
“Sure,” said Tom.
“One bottle of still water please,” said Abdul Aziz to the waiter.
“Thank you sir,” said the waiter. “And would you like anything else?” he asked Tom
“Definitely. I’d love a bottle of red. Tell me about your fine Argentinian wine selection…”
The next day
The following morning, I was sitting at my desk building a PowePoint presentation when my attention was drawn to an e-mail notification. It’s from Abdul Aziz. I opened the e-mail, which was addressed to my line manager and me. It read as follows:
I met Tom over dinner to discuss the potential acquisition we would like to carry out in the coming year and how Paris Berkeley Capital can help. The discussion was positive. I wish I could say the same about dinner. My advice to you is to illuminate the meaning of Ramadan to people within your firm who deal with clients from our region.
I hope [The ibanker] will be joining next time.
Seniority isn’t everything
What Tom did was to my mind ignorant. When you’re with the Chairman of a very large Middle Eastern bank during a holy month then you don’t stuff your face with buckets of pork and drink a bottle of wine. Just out of respect.
QUESTION: Was there a time another individual was chosen instead of you because they had more wrinkles and grey hair, and it turned out to be a mistake?