Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Investment banking attracts a certain kind of people - ambitious, highly motivated, driven and of course extremely sharp individuals. What's interesting is as the years progress, they  begin to drop by the dozens - analysts classes become smaller, associate pool starts to shrink as  many of those same individuals decide they want to pursue something else. Apart from going to PE - which is largely similar to the environment they have previously left, I am curious to know how they adjust back to the real world.

For e.g. - in my current role, I have a lot to be thankful for and have no complaints- I have good hours, ample vacation time and non-working weekends. What I was unprepared for was the sheer amount of time, one has to spend navigating the treacherous waters of politics and wading the murky realms of subtle manipulations and human interaction.

When you are in investment banking - the cut-throat directness and ruthlessness leaves little room for subtlety. When your MD wants a " book" by tomorrow or a client needs a deliverable, you deliver it - there is no room for interpretation, he doesn't care whether you like it or not - there is no " stakeholder engagement" , no negotiations, no buy-ins needed. Even as an Associate or a VP - you may have a team of analysts under you but one doesn't really " manage" them apart from direct/review their work like a drill-sergeant. Your appraisal process is a formality and your bonus number gives you an indication of whether you go up or out. One doesn't really learn how to deal with people.
It seems even the politics at the senior level of an investment bank are more direct. The razor sharp intellect and the pointedness which makes for great bankers don't necessarily make for great politicians.  As a result, you see so many investment bankers make major media faux pas, and then multiple town-halls and apologies later, they are sometimes redeemed (remember Lloyd Blankfein's - " we are doing God's work").
Furthermore, confrontation in an I-bank is more of a lion-gazelle encounter, where authority is clearly established and eventually you as the gazelle (after a few protests) quietly submit. The threat is visible and palpable. However, what is more insidious is when you are softly grazing in the grasslands and suddenly get stung in your backside by a giant and dangerous honey-bee.

So, what is interesting to see is how extremely bright and smart people surrounded by rather average people get blind-sided. Now, logically - one would shine and stand out and put everyone to shame. Not True - the same diligence and professionalism that you earlier prided is no longer well-regarded, intellect is termed as arrogance, fast decision-making is considered reckless and brash. Mediocrity is beautifully camouflaged by meaningless words, lack of intellect is compensated by machiavellian scheming, inaction is explained as patient and thoughtful analysis, incompetence is claimed to be  measured effort and efficiency is over-rated.
Now, I see a lot of ex-bankers and consultants around and they seem to grapple with all of the above issues, some previously left and went back to the old way of life claiming " politics consumed them" ...however, what we need to learn is how to re-wire and un-learn certain skills and learn the art of "people management" ... a skill we lost or never learnt in the race to deliver pitchbooks and close deals .... 

Sunday, 5 May 2013

So when your interview gets published by the Guardian, clearly there is some interest - but what I couldn't predict or entirely comprehend was the sheer reach and global audience of the article, which of course did wonders for my blog readership. Over the last 3 days, my blog views have gone up by more than 400%, of course, when you initially measure it from a base of barely 20 readers, it does seem like a lot !! What was more interesting to see the page views came from all over the world - from Haiti to Taiwan, either those poor souls accidentally clicked on the link, quickly got bored and decided to leave or they actually dedicated some precious moments of their life to reading my words - for which I would like to thank them for. 

For all those who have expressed an interest in this blog, it is heartening. The scale of  global banking has ensured that not only is there a commonality between banking professionals across the world but also a common thread of experiences which ties us all together. 

I will continue to write about my experiences on the other side of the banking world and other sundry life events. However, it would be interesting to hear other M&A and other banking related experiences across the world. A lot of what I write is tongue-in-cheek - so it would be great to hear experiences in the same vein!

One thing that warrants to be said is that even though I left the world of investment banking happily enough -  I really did meet some interesting characters which led to this blog! Clearly - those muses for inspiration are no longer there - so here is to meeting some more of the same .... err... or maybe not ;) ! 

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The 3 life lessons that investment banking taught me -

  • Lesson 1: Its not about the long hours - Bankers are perennially complaining about how intense and hectic their jobs are and how terrible the lifestyle is. Truth be told - its not just the long hours, a lot of people have terribly long hours - doctors, nurses, media folks- however what they also share is a sense of meaning and purpose, camaraderie and a feeling of belonging. Banking as a profession is deeply isolated, you work in silos and the sense of " each man for himself" is very pervasive.  You tend to perform a lot of repetitive and mind-numbing work, compounded with large amounts of unnecessary stress and fake sense of urgency. So actually, its not just the long hours but the environment and the people you interact with on a daily basis. Your superiors don't really view you as an employee but as a " resource", where the delivery of meaningless sheaf of papers is treated as a life or death situation and the very air that you breathe everyday reeks of deep-seated anger, fatigue, frustration and negativity. 

  • Lesson 2: It makes you the worst version of yourself - One tends to become self-centered, self-absorbed and terribly impatient as you spend more time in this job. It is common to become extremely short and intolerant with people you interact with on a daily basis and your friends, family and partners bear the maximum brunt of it. You and your problems become the center of the universe.You start to expect instant gratification from everything in life whether its the chocolate getting stuck in the vending machine,your taxi arriving late at night or being stuck in traffic. For the extremely agitated and constantly on the edge banker - these are such dire situations that they require solutions with the same speed and agility that these very bankers have to display constantly at work.  Another common trait is the slow loss of empathy. Once when my analyst came up to me and told me his grandmother had died before the deadline of an important client deliverable - my initial reaction was " Oh god!This is so unbelievably inconvenient!!" Of course, I eventually made the right noises and expressed my condolences but the only thought running in the background was the impending negotiation with the staffer on how to get an another analyst as soon as possible. 

  •  Lesson 3:Money does not buy you happiness- Investment banks think that by throwing money at you, they are absolved of all responsibility of treating you like a person. Now there are many people out there who would agree that they wouldn't mind being overpaid slaves and these luxury problems are hardships of the privileged. Agreed - bankers don't need to fight for their food, shelter or safety - but most bankers tend to be stressed, depressed, lonely, sleep deprived with poor health, low self-esteem and look older than their age - white hair, eye bags, dark circles - the works !This was confirmed through careful experiments that I conducted to entertain myself during those many hours of  life that were spent wasted for my MD's, VP's and analysts. I used to think of people that I worked with, then look up their pictures on the intranet and it was with immense pleasure that I perversely observed once healthy, youthful, smiling faces had slowly morphed into the equivalents of aged, wrinkled and dried up raisins. So, yes one may have 100k in the bank account but at the same time - you have no social life, few friends, probably no time for hobbies and oh, you look 45 when you are actually 30. 
I read somewhere about a nurse who counselled the dying in their last days and had recorded the top 5 regrets that they had in their end of days.The top 3 were - I wish I hadn't worked so hard, I wished I had stayed in touch with my friends and finally - I wish I had let myself be happier. 

Thursday, 14 February 2013

So, I noticed some major differences between my new environment and the hell -hole I used to work in before. In this normal job vs investment banking count - it seems the former is in the lead by far in terms of general office aesthetics, decor, environment etc for e.g. -

  • Flowers on people's desk vs morbid " tombstones" - I never noticed how barren and devoid of personal items were desks in investment banking. Ofcourse that could be a function of people not having personal lives. At the most - you would find desks with lots of vitamin supplements to compensate for the lack of fresh air and sleep, in an endeavor to infuse some energy in those mind-numbed zombies. Another frequently seen item are those silly deal tombstones that bankers like to proudly display on their desks - as a testament of how much of their time was spent destroying value. 
  • Free treats in office vs crappy coffee or worse redbull - I walk around my office and invariably, there is free food lying around . On Valentine's day - someone actually took the trouble of baking heart shaped brownies and left it on a table for people to snack on. Most of the time - there will be fresh fruit or chocolate - apparently its all part of the culture of giving and receiving. Ya right - try teaching that lesson to the IB guys - " giving people a hard time" and " receiving useless mark-ups and comments" are the only culture they  know. 
  • People take holidays for Valentine's day vs people never getting to take their holidays - Taking a holiday in investment banking was as predictable as winning the lottery - you'd probably never win it. Here, on the other hand - people take holidays for Valentine's day, for birthday's, for maternity wear shopping, for their Sky engineer coming over- EVERY reason is legit. In investment banking, even if someone died, they'd probably ask you if it is a blood relation and how close. 
  • Brightly colored chairs vs depressingly dull decor - This office has beautiful break-out areas with funky, multi-colored furniture (with an emphasis on red) to host team meetings and informal chats. The idea is that relaxed employees make for happy, productive employees. On the other hand, I dont know if the interior designer who designed investment banking floors was told to remind employees of a morgue or worse still - brainwash employees into believing the only color they ll ever see is on their powerpoint slides. 
  • Women vs err... none at all - Thats all you see - beautiful, ugly, thin, fat - but women of all shapes and sizes. For the last 5 years - having worked in only all - male environments - to suddenly see an explosion of women was discomforting at first. But once you get used to it, u realise an adverse sex-ratio breeds this unhealthy testosterone filled culture where soon women start to ape men. All much too evidenced by the strange species of female MD's that roam investment banks. 
  • People smiling and laughing vs grim, stressed faces - It was all too common to slink into your desk at 10 am in the morning and scowl till lunch in IB. As the day progresses, your mood would also invariably get worse, where ultimately you start to overlook niceties such as saying good-morning or good nights. Of course when you leave at 2 am, you wish everyone else has a frigging terrible night and who the hell cares about their morning anyway. 
  • A boss who acknowledges you vs a complete a$$h%&  - This was HUUGEE for me. The fact that my boss actually takes time to talk to me, invest time with me and is keen on mentoring me was a first. I came from a place where my last boss would hardly every look at me and one of the kindest things he ever said to me was that it was " reckless " of me to get the flu!! I wanted to tell my new boss - " You had me at Hello ... " :) 
  • A special mention to this particular practise of a team where I previously worked was they had a huge board on which they stuck pictures of people in their most fatigued state. So, pictures of people completely drained, exhausted, collapsed on their desk were regularly clicked by the team VP's as a " joke" !! It was almost like a Wall of Shame to perversely motivate other people to work harder else they would end up there - extrinsic motivation at its best.... 
I am sure, like most relationships - when the " honeymoon" phase is over and you start to notice the zits on your partner's face - I will also start to notice the chinks in my currently perfect job as time passes by. But so far - I appreciate the small stuff ......

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Today I am writing the much awaited expose on s*x, lies and lust in investment banking after being asked repeatedly by people to shed some insight into the debauchery that takes places within those not so hallowed halls. Now, when you obviously spend so much time at work - at any job, mutual attraction between sexes cannot be avoided (sometime even between same sexes but who is judging...). Also, infidelity and cheating are rampant in any workplace so why single out investment banking? Well, I can speak about my experiences in the bank and have broadly type-cast the different kinds of men who cheat and ones I encountered in the M&A world. Then again as I switch careers - I keep an open mind, I am sure I wont be disappointed... .

  • The Prolific Cheater - This guy cheats with absolutely no remorse and will cheat repeatedly simply because he cannot help it. The excuses will range from long - distance girl-friend,  attractive blonde at work, long working hours, bad London weather and general frustrations of life provide him enough of a reason to spread his wings out of his fairly committed relationship and seek entertainment outside of that. Of course, they may be perfectly satisfied in their current relationship but hey, variety is the spice of life and who said human beings were supposed to be monogamous anyway. The only inconvenience to their lives would be to be caught with their pants down - so hence, even though they are guilt-free, they take careful steps to cover their tracks and the lies to their spouses are virtually fool-proof where they probably take time to nurture their holier-than-thou bf/husband image. 

  • The Creepy, Middle-Aged Cheater - This one will have a very established and settled family life - wife, kids - perhaps even 4 kids but will still be maintaining a mistress on the side - preferably much younger and hopefully prettier than his current partner. There is never any intention to leave this comfortable set-up for him so the other woman at an early stage is made to understand that " Three is not a crowd ". Here, unlike the above situation - there may be some declarations of love but this is hardly a situation where mutual respect is the order of the day. In some cases - the wife or the partner may actually know about the affair but chooses to either accept it with utter resignation or doesnt care as long as the money keeps rolling in. 

  • The Earnest Cheater - Oh, this one will break your heart. He is like the hero of an Emily Bronte novel - straight out of Wuthering Heights with all the drama that you can think of. He will win you over with stories of a love-less marriage or relationship, bad-tempered raging shrew of a wife where the lack of physical and emotional intimacy drive him to seek solace elsewhere. Of course - he is not the one to cheat and how could he? He believes that his circumstances have driven him to a point where the growing distance with his partner make his current relationship unbearable. BAAM - thats the trap !! Underneath the nice guy, cheerful exterior hides a cowardly, pathetic excuse of a man. Questions on why he remains committed or in some cases why they got married a short time ago are met with a blank, somewhat confused look before undying declarations of love and pure passion are made to you. Ofcourse, when further questioned about " isnt it just better to split up and put yourselves out of this misery"  suddenly their wives/gf;s will contract some terrible life-threatening illness which demands that they stay close to them for comfort and support and only AFTER that - will he pursue a split. Finally, his inadequacies, inconsistencies and indecision will leave you so dry that even if he is gaming you, you dont know who to feel bad for anymore - the victim or the cheater. If he has a bad marriage - he has issues but worse, if he made all this up - then good lord - he has even bigger issues. 

  • The Hesitant Cheater - This one has mentally cheated with you already about a million times but lacks the courage to see it through. So he will test the waters like a child dipping a toe into the sea - as soon as the tides turn, he will run back and look with ever growing desire. Even though guilt could be a mild consideration - the hesitation is mostly due to lack of confidence. Once he overcomes this initial starting trouble - he can easily fall into any of the categories described above. 
So while this list is not exhaustive - it is a start. Recently, I watched a documentary on Narcisstic Personality disorders and I spotted traits that most of my ex-colleagues exhibit in abundant quantities. One of the 9 traits which make a person a certified nut-job was Lack of Empathy and Remorse - where varying degrees of this determine the level of narcissism in a person. Looking at the above list - aside from the many other major character flaws (lack of integrity, honesty, self-lessness etc) a growing lack of senstivity,guilt and remorse is much too evident. 

I come from the school of thought where the simple pursuit of happiness was the end goal and the purpose of life is to make it less complicated and not more - guess, thats not true for everyone. 

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Its my first week at my new job and I find myself a bit lost and uneasy. Let me explain - today there was some evident activity - when our Group CFO (read as very busy man) steps out of his office and asks us to gather around and then goes on to thank this person - Liz, who has her last day today. He goes on to profusely thank her, tells her how much they will miss her, her hard work has been appreciated - then hands her a farewell gift from the team, everyone claps - Liz makes her farewell speech - more claps, more gifts.

In the meantime - I ask my colleague - who Liz happens to be. In my head, ofcourse she must be a fellow MD who is moving to another bank, basically someone very important to deserve such a lavish send-off. After I gave this explanation - my colleague gave me the look you give to a hunted and abused animal and smiled pitifully and said - "Liz is our team assistant, she is leaving to write a novel (travel fiction) and everyone gets a similar farewell."

Reallly?!!I was barely acknowledged by my team when I quit the investment bank that I previously worked for. And hey! not to boast I am not even the nasty, alpha type banker but genuinely made friends in the bank, so my send-off was on the congenial side. There were people who actually made an effort to meet me or call me before I left but that is surely not common and completely unexpected.

The perverse and brutal treatment of people in I-banks is so pervasive that any act of mild kindness is tremendously appreciated. So when you throw people like us in an environment where people are actually kind to each other, where even though people are busy - there is no false sense of urgency and constant stress, you suddenly feel as wary and cautious as a trapped animal suddenly let loose.

The unnecessary aggression, the constant dis-satisfaction, the profound sense of negativity, the bitching and the complaining made for a terrible work environment. The best part is that there was this sense of self-created importance around investment bankers (when 90% of their time is spent aligning boxes, formatting pages, juggling numbers) in order to give their actually truly battered self-esteem some meaning.
Another very common and visible trait is the constant need to spend money - the need to escape and reward yourself where you buy things incessantly that you dont need and plan exotic holidays - hoping to get some semblance of normalcy.

The feature that strikes me the most in my new organisation is that even though people work hard doing things which are far more intellectually challenging for actually less money - they all seem surprisingly content!!
No morbid jokes around plotting grevious harm to colleagues, no perverse humor, no need to expend pent-up frustration, no fancy vacations in Sharm-el-Sheikh or Bora Bora boasted about, no interest in showing off the fancy West End restaurants that your MD dined in over the weekend ..now that's normal, regular life ......

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Its time to finish what I started .... After a rocky two years in the world of investment banking - it is time to bid adieu and fondly so. After much bitching, whining and complaining - it is time to savor the pure pleasure of a 2 month vacation before I start my new job. However, fond farewells also mean its time to give the last honors and awards to people who left a lasting impression on me (for good or for bad) ...

  • The award for the Most Unscrupulous and Deviously Ugly - Now this could be shared by a few people but I have special place in my heart for my last VP who emulated every quality and truly deserves it. Rumor has it (it was hardly a rumor but a fact) that even though married with 4 kids he took great pleasure from fornicating with the 25 year old analyst from my team. This of course resulted in her being relatively untouchable to the rest of the team - where her services were reserved only for the pleasure of my VP 
  • The award for Bullshit Bingo - This should be awarded to the female MD who insisted that my leaving is a setback for the bank who have failed to retain talent such as mine, how the system has failed me and how she is grievously upset that I didnt confide my displeasure about my current role to her. This would have been heart-moving and I would genuinely have been touched had I not heard her confide in me a few months earlier that the bane of her existence is that not enough analysts are leaving the firm and how " sigh.." she ll have to fire a few. 
  • The award for the Most Guileless - The people who think they have found their calling and where they feel that working 120 hours/week is part of the quest for eternal success and have replaced " living " with merely " existing", where life has been postponed to after 40. Good luck to you guys. 
  • Awards for the Heroes who Beat the System - This to all of us who managed to escape the system and how. The ones who said enough is enough and opted out of the world of endless fake deadlines, unnecessary emergencies, unintelligent mark-ups and comments, indifferent or worse sadistic superiors, seamless food, stressful lifestyles and little sleep. This is a huge cheers to all of us who left for all that's bigger and better out there. 
  • A special mention for all those who insidiously try and bring the system down from within - Dont waste your time folks - it aint changing. You guys are far too smart to linger on - take a leap of faith and head out in the real world - Life happens out here. 
So this is the end of my investment banking travails ....... Thats all for now ;). See you on the other side.