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.


Friday, 5 October 2012

On a Friday evening, when you get summoned back to office from a bar to "process" comments - rage knows no boundaries. So while I sat there working like a drone, plotting all sorts of evil to descend on my superiors and the banking industry at large,I was also typing away an email to my boss. The email was actually supposed to say " Please see updated presentation " instead I write " Please feel updated presentation " and hit send.

Note to self : NEVER send emails when livid.

I should have felt upset - but as I sent it and then read the complete absurdity of the message - I thought, well - wat the hell atleast I got a good laugh out of it and I do hope he feels the presentation ..right ...up.. his.. arse ... !

So last week - being extremely unwell, coughing and wheezing - I had to host a conference call so my ED comes online and says - Hi, How are You ...and I respond (sounding like Bane from the Batman series) - Awful, extremely unwell ... so he responds " Aaah, Good Good " ?!!! Why even bother with civilities in this business? Why pretend to even be concerned or remotely interested - why not start the conversation with " Lets get this out of the way and be done with it"  No need for thank yous, please, sorry ... so inefficient - why waste any time at all being ...UGGHH ..POLITE!?

So one would think its only bankers who are heartless - but I dont believe that is true. Anybody who is touched by this profession even remotely loses the ability to empathize and see employees as human beings.

If that wasnt bad enough a particular conversation with HR runs as follows. An employee goes to HR and requests them to switch divisions since this job is taking a toll on his/her health - frequently unwell, stress headaches etc and the person would like to make a move out of IBD.
The HR lady nods most sympathetically and asks " Yes, I understand, but do you have any severe symptoms? I mean anything terminal/ urgent or is this more of a long term plan .... "  As the person looks bewildered, she tries to cover up by mentioning - " No, I mean to ask how urgent this is ..... "
So basically, until you are about to die at work - it is not imperative to move just because you are dissatisfied and demotivated?
If that wasn't bad enough, she tried to figure out how many hours a typical employee works in IBD, she asks " Well, should I say you work from between 12 - 14 hours ..does that sound about right ?"
This is coming from the so-called Human Resource team of  a leading investment bank, who is uninformed about the kind of hours an M&A banker works - the very mainstay of this bank!!

So, while the entire corporate world re-organises itself across employee development, fostering and mentoring future leaders and HR students across the world write pages on retaining and motivating employees - the banking industry focuses on keeping its workforce barely alive.

The trade-off between money and lifestyle at one point of time could almost justify this callous indifference (inexcusable as it maybe) but as regulation clamps down and as the industry itself goes through tectonic shifts, perhaps now is a good time as any to start nurturing some talent OR hiring simians for the job at hand.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Back after a long hiatus, one would think I found a new job but alas not so and trust me I tried! So its back to writing for me.

I have just joined a new team and was for a brief period of time lulled into a fake sense of security that - hey, this is not bad - perhaps I can actually do this and then BOOM! you get staffed on a project where you get killed and suddenly you realise that it still is as bad. I was told that my new team is a " lifestyle " team and I happily accepted it. Ya, sure you leave a bit early - midnight instead of later but hey, that is a certain type of " lifestyle" after all....... Moral of the story - different people, same BS.

But more importantly, this post is about the holy grail of what most investment bankers toil day and night for apart from the big fat bonus - something called Closing Dinners & Tombstones. So for the unaware - the closing dinner is usually a VERY fancy dinner at the expense of the client to celebrate the holy matrimony of merging two unrelated companies together under the promise of attaining something mysteriously called as synergies. A tombstone is usually a fancy trophy provided to every soul who sacrificed their life in conducting that marriage and is usually a mark of a banker's legacy and prowess (More tombstones = no life).

So picture this setting - A fancy 2 Michelin starred restaurant with a waiting list of usually 6 months is booked completely for all the advisors (read glorified pimps) to gather together and  feel smug in their glory.  So what you do find is a lot of people in black suits, nervously fumbling blackberry's while trying to appear comfortable in a formal setting and having to actually converse with human beings and not a desktop. The Big Kahuna's - the MD's obviously appear to be prattling away with other bigwigs with effortless ease while the rest of the folks hang around the fringes of their conversation pretending to " act cool" and nodding and laughing in unison.

I had earlier decided to break the monotony of black by wearing green hoping that the women in other banks use their sartorial sense by wearing color to a formal dinner, unfortunately even the women believe they should dress like they are attending a funeral OR confuse themselves as semi-male. So this resulted in me sticking out like someone planted a christmas tree in the middle of the room and turned the lights on.

If the social awkwardness of all this is not enough to make you cringe - then they have seating plans! So how this works is the tables are numbered from 1-7 and you can guess which tables the analysts and the associates are seated on. Someone also did the courtesy of placing against table number 1 - Very Important Persons as if ensure that the Very Unimportant People (hereby called as V.U.P's) are instantly repelled.  Now, even between them, there is hierarchy so tables 2-5 are the mediocre V.U.P's - the ED's and VP's. (Infact my manager actually decided to announce the glaringly obvious fact to all and sundry - " Aaah, see they seated us as per designation, how clever....)

Obviously tables 6-7 are the Associates and the Analysts - if our designations and workload is not menial enough - yes, please by all means, invite us for dinner and then insult us even further by segregating us, what next - different cutlery (silver for MD's and plastic for analysts) and toilets?!!

If that was not bad enough, Sir I-am-Chairperson-of-the-company-paying-for-tonight told us that life is not about buying and selling companies but about producing, creating something and making a decent,honest living. Everyone applauded and looked at him a bit confused trying to figure out if he just praised us or shafted us!

In the end, we all finished our very pretentious meals with horribly small portions, received our tombstones in what suspiciously looked like mini-caskets and left - just happy to get an excuse for a free evening and we all lived happily(??) ever after.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

So they fired one of my favourite bosses last week.  He was widely known as one of the nicest people in the bank, whose style of working was so relaxed that there would be a queque of people ready to work with him. Largely pain-free and never the one to create additional work, it was mostly a stress-free experience to work for him.

So clearly, the process of being and staying as MD is quite self-selecting - the nicer you are, the less likely you are to survive. What about the plethora of political a$%holes posing as " senior management" OR the paranoid and pyschotic micro-managers who if they could would track with you a GPS and plant a camera in your ass for good measure - When are they ever asked to leave?

The bank's excuse is if you are not bringing in money, we are not doing charity. Fair enough - when these MD's are being paid the equivalent of a small fortune, you better be milking some gullible fool who is commonly called as a " client".

However, how about giving equal weightage in performance evaluation to leadership, team management and mentoring skills? Surely, to be a senior executive, people skills are as relevant, where employee engagement and motivation should be as important as retaining your clients.

In an environment where we work as hard as we do, it is almost shocking but I have not had even one conversation with any of my line managers about my " career path" or " goal -setting" or " developmental plan".  Whatever limited conversations you do have are fleeting, cursory and a mere formality. Consequently, when you see the few role models that you could try and emulate get fired, your motivation to stick around is severely reduced.

As one MD rightly hung a poster on his wall saying " I work for money, if you want loyalty - get a dog." 

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Now this post is to understand & evaluate why there are such few women in the world of M&A - this is a question which has perplexed me for the longest time I have been here.

The adverse sex-ratio in a bank such as mine is not new or uncommon. However, with all the talk on breaking glass ceilings and ensuring women rise to the top, there is very little done to retain female talent. While recruiting in business school, there is definitely a big push to recruit more female Associates, that being said - that does not mean a less qualified woman would be hired over a man. It merely means that between two equally qualified candidates - being a woman could give you a slight advantage in a banking interview.

However, once you join it is a level playing field - sometimes a bit too level.  There are certain traits that I observed about the women who make it to senior management in an investment bank - a) they are extremely aggressive and dominating b) there is an obvious effort to subdue their femininity and c) they tend to be harsher and less empathetic than their male counterparts.

This I think stems from an inherent need to succeed in an testosterone - fueled environment, where any weakness or any display of feminine traits are seen as you being less capable or not up to the challenge. In order to succeed as a banker particularly in M&A - the sacrifices and hours that a person needs to put in to climb the proverbial ladder to success is I think physically and emotionally taxing particularly for a woman. After a point of time- she starts to think marriage, kids and of slowing down - which is a complete anti-thesis to being a cut-throat banker.
Not to say it can't be done - there are a few examples of women who made it to MD level albeit with an army of nannies and having multitude of stay-at-home husbands.

The question that begs to be asked if whether - can we ever have a Marissa Mayer type woman lead an Investment Bank, who embraces her femininity and carries her pregnancy as a talisman while steering a Fortune 500 company? For all talk about banks being equal opportunity employers - probably not!! 

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

An interesting incident at work is the inspiration for two posts in the same day. So, there was a fire scare in office today with the lady over the PA system going berserk claiming " There is a fire in the building, please note, there is a fire in the building ". The range of reactions from the zombies at work was between mild curiosity & indifference to utter disregard while they continued to dial away on conference calls, toil away on excel sheets and change chart colors on power point slides.

After 5 minutes of the unrelenting fire alarm - I look over at the only other sane person in the bank (my dear partner in crime), we decide that our lives are too precious to be wasted on asphyxiation and we decided to walk out of the building. On the way, being good samaritans, we also urged other co-workers/drones to perhaps heed to the incessant instructions. Some of the interesting responses that we got were - Cant you see I am in the middle of something or even better - You guys go ahead, I need to send something out.  Those last words were accompanied with a patronizing eyeball roll and " God, these guys are paranoid". 

So once we got out of office and made our way to the bar on exactly the other side of our famed building, we positioned ourselves with beers to patiently await the scenes of utter disaster since this was clearly the most exciting thing to happen to us all year. 
Imagining complete destruction and actually thinking - perhaps some people did need some good ol smoke up their arses, we played out dramatic scenes of bankers jumping out of the building, making jokes about fire marshals not willing to save us since we were not " innocent civilians" , wat we would do if someone was choking - the common consensus was that it depend on who was choking .... 

Alas, it just happened to be a false alarm - eventually, we all trooped back to office albeit a bit disappointed but clearly relieved to have a pretext for a drink at 4 pm on an idle Wednesday afternoon .... Such is  the high-rolling lives of bankers .....

" Oh, it was my birthday last week and I totally forgot " that beautiful phrase was uttered by a VP at work. While the rest of us stared at him in shocked silence, he said it with a small frown on his face as if contemplating the sheer futility and inconveniences of occasions such as birthdays, weddings and funerals. But the sad part of that statement was not that he forgot his own birthday but the fact that NOBODY else remembered it either !!! Not your own parents, your partner, close friends - no one remembered or bothered to call to even remind you - now that is truly depressing. It is an incredible feat to have an existence so isolated from people that not one person on this planet wanted to celebrate the day you were put on this earth !

So today's discussion was on introducing awards for the " Most Screwed Up Banker" - they would be named after recently deposed CEO's or out of favor Chairmans such as " The Bob Diamond award" or " Jamie Dimon Badge of Honor". Criteria for nomination would be ranging from - least amount of integrity,highest level of dishonesty, exemplary levels of social awkwardness, intellectual limitations, lowest levels of EQ, complete lack of leadership skills etc etc. I would nominate the above featured banker as a front runner but by all means, he will not be alone - he will be in esteemed company since there are many who would comfortably qualify for these awards. It will be a competitive process and a truly nail-biting race to the finish.

However, thats not to say that everyone in the bank is devoid of social skills - there are some duly charismatic, socially adept and highly intelligent bankers out there. There are also some junior bankers as well who want to essay the roles of leaders and take it upon themselves to practise their new found leadership skills on you. Some of them will utter real gems of wisdom in their attempts to motivate you out of your stupor - they almost see themselves as Messiah's guiding you to the holy land when they say things like

1. You are my flock and it is my job to take care you
2. I am your protector - so never fear to approach me. If you dont talk to me - I cant help you
3. If I could instill your values in every person in this firm, the world would be a better place
4. I can place my hand on my heart and assure you that you are one of the most valuable resources that we have
5. Life has a real design for you - but dont fight it, put your head down and work through these tough times

Now all of the above have been said when these people have screwed you over in some way or the other and they obviously confuse you for having the mind-space of a goldfish or a potted plant.

It is incredibly amusing to see how the people who work in instititions such as mine have enveloped themselves so completely in this bubble. I guess when you spend so much time at work - it is but natural(?) to allow yourself to be so completely consumed. Some ofcourse are more susceptible than others.

For the last 2 weeks I have been leaving at 7 pm and sometimes (gasp!!) even 5 pm in the evening (function of not being staffed) - I discovered there is a whole world out there - surprise surprise! It is wonderous to see the life through the eyes of  "regular " people. It truly is a novel experience ......

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

This week is the dreaded lay-over week. Business is bad, the bank is not making money and we are not doing any deals. Looking at the current macro-economic environment that hardly seems surprising. But ofcourse we will still run to all and sundry to pitch all sorts of possible alternatives - restructure your company, buy this company, sell this business, IPO that division. Some of the most outlandish suggestions have ranged from a merger of 2 tech giants or the IPO of a cash cow of a large utilities business or a reverse merger where very small companies should buy completely unrelated assets which they ofcourse cant afford!

But it is amusing - the bank is debating laying off people this week but at the same time is spending thousands of dollars installing "facilities monitors " which tells employees when the next toilet inspection is due and when the kitchen will be cleaned - yes, this is something which will dramatically improve the quality of my life. This is such a preposterous waste of money - I am tempted to send this example to Scott Adams to feature in the next Dilbert issue.

So, nowadays, the much repeated game around the associate class is " Who Will Be Fired" where it seems like getting fired is almost like a reward. Oft repeated sentences are " that guy does NOTHING the whole day - why does he deserve the redundancy package - this is so unfair !!" or " I have worked my ass off and they refuse to me fire me - I want the severance !!"  The reason why everybody covets this redundancy is two fold - 1) you get three months pay tax free and 2) you get a 3 month vacation under the guise of looking for future employment

Now, ofcourse this by no means is to disrespect all those folks who have families and liabilities - where losing their jobs is equivalent of a death knell. However, this above mentioned perverse stream of thought is exacerbated by the sense of absolute desperation and frustration of working here - where the idea of being paid to leave is such a pleasant idea that suddenly everyone wants to grab the " low hanging fruit".

I am told repeatedly by people who dont work in the bank - that I have been blessed to get the job I have, that I am in a luxury position, that there are millions of people who would die to do the same role - thats when I have to ask myself - Have I lost the sense to be thankful for all that I have? Have the daily frustrutions made me numb to all the good things in my life, Had I been unemployed - would I have envied those dark suits trudging to work everyday ? Is this really the worst that can happen to someone ?

Maybe not .... but if you simply look at Maslow's hierarchy of needs - these organisations meet your two basic needs - physiological and safety needs , everything on top of it - relationships, friendships, free time, sense of respect, recognition, space for creativity etc is all up for grabs ....So is there is a real basis to our unhappiness ... Maybe yes .....

Monday, 18 June 2012

If Gandhi worked for an investment bank, he would have discarded his theory on non-violence and peace a long time back. He would have have whipped off his effing loinscloth, wet it and whiplashed everyone from VP upwards.
I am convinced even the most pious saints and nuns would become scheming, manipulative creatures when surrounded by the daily frustrations and loathings of working in a bank. It is commonplace and routine to think of causing bodily harm to your colleagues and superiors - the more vicious the better. Even ancient Chinese torture tactics fall short.

For e.g. - in my recent project, for a presentation that is due on Tuesday and you find out a week in advance, one would think it is prudent to start working on the Monday (a week before the deadline), however, when your very fat and ugly VP only starts work on a Thursday night - you know its headed for disaster. Also, this is without the support of an analyst. Now, all those who work in banking and other related professions know HOW important an analyst is to the process - the analyst is the difference in you getting some sleep compared to getting none, the savior who you blame incase dung hits the fan, the beast of burden etc etc.

So when my friends all ask me why I need to work weekends most of the time - it cannot be just gross mismanagement.I think its a combination of incompetence and indifference. The truth is that your superiors just don't care. It does not matter to them if your weekends have been repeatedly ruined, if you haven't slept in days, if you are unwell - you are a payroll, a number without a face. Sometimes, they have moments of compassion - when you may be rewarded a night off on a Friday night only to be told that you must come on Saturday morning.

Understandably, we work in client - facing roles with stringent timelines and demanding clients, however, the number of fake deadlines, unnecessary urgency and life-or-death situations which are created by senior management are completely uncalled for. The sole reason for this is - We are a money-making,deal churning assembly line and every minute not spent working is fees not earned!

Now, I believe this behavior and appalling lack of empathy for human resources will continue till this industry flourishes. However, there has to be a tipping point - the banking industry is undergoing too much change, too much flak and too much criticism for them to continue to function with a blatant disregard of their employees. As regulation clamps down, as compensation scales dip and it is no longer lucrative to work in these professions - their ability to attract the best and the smartest will seriously come under question. Finally - then, perhaps they will start to realise the need to retain people and not continue to " burn people", no longer shall they have the scores of people lined up outside their door begging for jobs. One fine day - it could be that they open the proverbial doors of recruitment and find no one standing outside.

Monday, 28 May 2012

So in order to understand the day -to-day frustration that one goes through in the banking world, it is important for me to lay out the general scene of the various types of co-workers that I interact with.

  1. Dilbert's Boss (DB) - I am convinced that Scott Adams works for an i-bank because the instances and people he writes about are uncannily similar if not identical to the people I work with including appearances! One of the people I currently happen to work for looks exactly and I do mean exactly like Dilbert's boss, the astonishing part is he also behaves the same way. Except he is more painful in real life than the comic strip - there I empathise with Dilbert, have a good laugh and set him aside, real life - happens to be a bit difficult. Working for him is like having in him in your brain 24/7, receiving emails like " Where are you "/" What is the progress"/ " What is the status'"/ " What is the update" until its hourly reporting almost equivalent to being in the armed forces reporting insurgency from the other side . Once, when we were expecting some obviously useless slides from another team - an hour after we spoke to them, he emailed me to ask " Are they working on their slides?" !!! Now - the only acceptable response to such an absurd question could only be " Negative, Commander - we do not, I repeat, we do not have a camera up the arse of the VP, so I cannot confirm or deny whether they are working on their slides or not " OR I could ignore the question - until of course he calls !! 
  2. The Drama Queen (DQ) - Now, DQ actually happens to be a guy. But everyone of us has a Drama Queen in their office - the insufferable know it all,the kid in the first bench with the answer to every question, the busy bee, the gossip girl. Everything DQ does is with a flourish - the way he speaks on the phone( using very propah English interspersed with " You see/ Look/ That is correct/ Prima Facie"), to the all - knowing and patronizing head nod when asked a question, to even when he sees pictures of the Royal wedding at work (yes, really!!) and lusts after Kate Middleton's dress - he does it with an air of this is THE most important task of the day. His brisk and purposeful walk, the perpetual pre-occupied expression of business on his face, the look of being extremely busy even when he walks to the bathroom will be one of " I am going to close a multi-million dollar deal over the shit pot".  His most famous comment to date has been " I never irresponsibly book lottery holidays"  translates into "I never take holidays - Im a loser." 
  3. Snoop - DAWG/ The Rockstar - Ooh - now, Snoop is what everyone in the bank wants to be. The real " baller" Associate , comes and goes as he pleases, has a set of his own clients, walks and talks like THE banker. The analysts want to be him, the women want to do him, the MDs want him to work with them - he will spend 2 hours in the gym, spend a few hours on the phone with "clients", another few hours browsing the internet and leave at 8 pm - the staffer seems to avoid him, VP's come and chat with him - he is the old hand who has nailed the system and knows where and how to squeeze it and better still - gets away with it. 
  4. The Whiner - Now this is the associate who cribs to all and sundry every minute of every day. It is quite common to see him crib on the phone to his analyst, VP, ED, shoe -shine guy etc about his work load, his busy schedule, the weather, the tyres of his car etc etc .... Commonly heard from his desk are catch phrases such as " I am not an Arshole BUT i cannot do this work - you will have to do it ..." or even better " What is this, I am not some soccer ball to be kicked around .... " 
  5. The Flirt - Now this is the guy who flirts with anything that is blonde and that moves. In some offices, this guy flirts with anything that moves but in my office in particular - this one likes his blondes. Even though he is fairly committed - I say fairly because along with having a roving eye, the rest of him follows as well when a blonde passes by ....
  6. The Slacker - Ohh, this guy is the most interesting - to delegate is his life. His gym schedule, his diet, his upcoming wedding, his flat hunt - everything apart from work take precedence. Never takes ownership of his work, always dumps things on his poor analyst - yet, the few days he spends beyond 10pm is broadcasted with great enthusiasm over lunch/dinner conversations. If this person was to lift a pen from the floor - it will be a story narrated with much gusto - for e.g. it would go like this - You know, the other day - i got so screwed man, I was dumped with so much work - I actually, get this, I actually had to bend over, kneel forward, pick up this pen, straighten my back and come back to an upright position and I had to this urgently - do you know how bad that was, I am so tired man ... Doing this shit just exhausts me ". The day he would leave early after working late for 2 days (read leaving at 10 pm - yes, this is early for us bankers) it will be announced and then he will walk out of the door with the exaggerated posture of a much defeated and tired man. 
Then there are a few other interesting characters which not every bank may have but are so unique that the deserve a mention - 
  1. Happy Feet - This guy roams around the office without his shoes on just in his socks. Earlier I thot it was to air his feet out - gave him the benefit of the doubt, but then he decides to go to the printer, get coffee, walk around the floor, go to the gym ... in just socks ! Not once but everyday - one has to wonder ........ 
  2. Posture Man - Now this person actually has a special stool on which he sits on for close to 16 hours a day - back is ram-rod straight without any support. I still conjecture whether this meant to for some posture related problem or this is an ancient torture mechanism which the bank use to exert some special kind of discipline - " You there, today its your turn for The Stool and No, you CANT slouch " 
Thats all for now, folks. 


Sunday, 27 May 2012

So I met some guys who worked in Private Equity the other day and who couldn't stop complaining about THEIR jobs !! For the uninformed,  private equity is the holy grail of every banker - you go into banking thinking that 2 years of this pain and soon after that I will be cruising towards the holy Mecca of life.  You tell yourself - ofcourse I want to do PE - great lifestyle, more pressure but I ll be doing something more meaningful, making a real impact, making investment decisions, more entrepreneurial, more money blah blah blah .... . What you dont realize is that a flunkie in a bank i.e. analyst and associates when they quit a bank, they go and become flunkie's in PE funds instead.

It doesn't matter if you are now in PE and all the desperate bankers look at you with pleading eyes begging you to take them with you the day you quit your bank - you are still going to be somebody's b$%@#h elsewhere.
These guys I met talked about how they work less hours but the work is way more painful - they have Friday night 9 pm " exit " calls to discuss how the week ended and then Saturday 10 am meetings and then finally Sunday 6 pm " entry and work allocation into the week" calls.
{Now one may wonder that when you have so many calls and meetings - when does anyone in the financial world get any work done. Well, I have a theory about that - Im a big fan of the Dilbert cartoon strips, so one of them went as follows - Dilbert to Catbert - " Im feeling lonely" ; Catbert : Ok - why dont you call for a meeting then or even better have a pre-meeting meeting." !!}

Now these guys are all talking about Venture Capital as the next big step - they were telling me how much impact they ll create, how meaningful the role is, how work is more entreprenuerial...hmmmn, sounds familiar...

I meet my friends from business school all the time and apparently most of the people I meet one year after business school are all somewhere between discontentment with their current jobs to absolutely loathing it. The folks in industry talk about much more bureaucracy, less challenging work, mind-less politics, slow decision making. The people in banking are frustrated with their hours and lifestyle. The guys in consulting are sick of their travel. Even people who are semi-satisfied with their jobs or entrepreneurial ventures are unhappy with their location, their boss, their commute, the lack of income etc etc ....

And that really makes me wonder, is there anyone who made that perfect jump or found that perfect job - or is the quest for perfection in itself an illusion? And if not - then are we conditioned to constantly have " the grass is greener on the other side" syndrome for the rest of our lives. Are we destined to go through life constantly being dissatisfied. ...
When do we finally tell ourselves -" This is it, I have arrived and there is no place I'd rather be " ..... 

Thursday, 17 May 2012

"The Art of Checking Out"  - I would like to dedicate this post to my friend - the intellectual Miyagi, the shephard who leads you to the light, the person with the pearls of wisdom which transform your life. He has liberated me from months of torment (provided I follow his advice) and I write this post in his appreciation since he has successfully demonstrated it CAN happen.

"You need to learn how to Check-Out" he explains with a profound and beatific glow on his face. This is after he has seen me through weeks of misery and depression where this job is finally starting to take a toll on my health with constant stress headaches. Now his advice is so obvious but so difficult to follow but I hope I can retain the essence of the art and science of checking out which looks something like this -

1. You should stop giving a damn - This is tenet number 1, the real truth, the holy grail, the absolute gospel. This essentially entails the need to stop caring about what everybody else at work thinks, what people say to you,about work, about the holy trinity, about presentations, deadlines etc - the equivalent of professional nirvana. This can come in many forms - you dont care about the quality of the deliverable, the unnecessary and fake deadlines set by your enthusiastic VP, the repeated and inane requests of the MD, the pressure you put on the analyst. Everything is pushed back, forward, upward etc - EVERYWHERE but yourself.

2. Be as less responsive as possible - This is extremely important - because the minute you appear over enthusiastic, this sends a red flag through the system which indicates - "newbie, novice - lets exploit him/her". This needs to stop right away. Your minimum response time to any email which says ASAP - should be atleast 3 - 4 hours if not more. If nobody is dying - then it can be more than 24 hours. When asked a question - if the answer is Yes, then dont reply at all. When asked repeatedly about the status of your work over email - dont respond until they call. When they call - ignore the first few times if you are at dinner or are busy with e.g. staring at the ceiling and finally answer and keep it to the point, ignoring the hysterical questions from the VP about why you were not available.

3. Everyone is out to screw you - This is especially true, even the ones who are nice are actually douchebags in disguise. The only thing people learn in this business is self-preservation. So that is an art you pick up very quickly. For e.g. - it is easy to see friends change personalities, bosses who are pleasant one minute are absolute demons the next. No one can escape this phenomena - if it is your holiday or vacation in the firing line - whose weekend are you going to kill - yours or the analyst? Its virtually a no-brainer. The sooner you learn this - the better.

4. Push back, push back and push back - It is apparently possible to leave this business at 7 pm if you dont do a shred of work. This goes back to Tenet 1, as long as you stop caring about the quality of the deliverable and your inherent need to outperform - then this comes very easily. You have to be comfortable saying " I forgot" or " It was an oversight - no big deal"  or " Fine - I ll fix it later" . As my friend says - nothing in this business is life or death - but spending 2 nights in a row over some presentation that no one cares about can make all the difference to YOUR life.

5. Prioritise - There are 3 main priorities of your life - Health, Family and Friends and finally a Job. But when a job starts to overtake all else - then you know its time to let something go and most logically it should be the last option.

This may be a bit harsh for all those doe-eyed people who still want to work in this industry but this is the bare naked truth. This is the reality - this job has the ability to inherently change you and hence all your social interactions - it creates unwanted ripples in your life that sometimes cause permanent damage - either to your health or your close relationships.

One incident in particular resonates with me when I think of the above and i think is the perfect illustration of this. All the associates had a session with the "Head of Something Very Important in the Bank" (basically second in command to the CEO), the only words that I heard during that 1 hour meeting were - revenue, market share, wallet size, we need more deals, we need to grow, we are the best, we skillfully managed the crisis, money is important - you get the drift.
The words that one did not hear at all were - people, human capital, work-life balance, strategy - Makes you Think right?

Monday, 14 May 2012

"Somedays you are the pigeon, somedays you are the statue OR somedays you are the dog, most days you are the lamp-post." 
Most of the time, in my job - I have resigned to being the statue/lamp-post. This feeling is accentuated when you receive comments for your presentation written on what suspiciously looks like tissue paper provided by your sun-tanned VP who returns from his vacation from Bora-Bora.
Or how about the time when you are told after grinding away on a presentation where everything is so urgent and you killed weekend after weekend on it that " hey guys, just FYI - these materials are actually not going to be opened during the meeting but is just for RESERVE" ! Reserve - this means that when the CFO comes running into the meeting to report an emergency that the corporate office is out of toilet paper, the ever willing to impress banker will graciously step in and whip out this glossy, elegantly bound presentation and say " Fear not, this is exactly why we bought this material as RESERVE" and will then proceed to offer you assistance in wiping up.

There are even more entertaining species in banks, the ones who refer to 8pm as " afternoon"  and who say it still isn't late to get things done when its sunset - unless their body clock coincides with an owl or a vampire, this is NOT normal. Or even better - my poor tortured friend works for a lunatic who insists on sending emails on numerous occasions saying " Guys - I plan to be working all night, how about you?"  . I can just picture this guy hunched over his computer popping pills after pills to keep himself awake, gleefully rubbing his hands together thinking " yes! another all-nighter - cannot wait - Models and Bottles - this is da life " except the only models he will get are the excel ones and the only bottles will be of redbull.

One may wonder if such a scathing indictment of bankers is really true and whether we as the supposedly intellectual creme de la creme of society sitting in these banks are actually just drones/minions who bend over on command. While you are lured into the job with promises of working on transformational, billion-dollar deals - the actual work that you do is infact very mundane.
Your MD's are indeed jet-setting executives with platinum cards and airline miles, however, this happens after you have invested a good 10 years in your career - until then, you should be reconciled to being a mere cog in the machinery (albeit well paid and with excellent formatting skills).
The rigor of being able to draft the right footnotes using font size 7 and consistently using numbers upto 1 decimal point  is impressive alright, but hardly worth paying all that money to an MBA for!
Somebody once gave me an useful pointer " Consistency is better than Accuracy".  Definitely, worth thinking about.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

" I have reservations dating female bankers"  so says a guy I met a few weeks back. Now one would think evolved human beings - intelligent, independent, capable and confident men, fellow MBA's would be devoid of such prejudices and not typecast women as per their looks or professions but look beyond that - say into personality,compatibility, intellect etc perhaps ? But Alas, that is not to be so. It is so common to hear this from very smart guys - who actually dont seem to seek the same level of brains or ambitions in their partners but would be very happy meeting someone pretty yet woefully stupid as long as she doesnt "intimidate " him. Someone is feeling a bit insecure, is it ??

Now, for me there are 2 categories of men - douchebags and the non-douchebags. I have met plenty of the former and happy to share some instances similar to the above.

After a year in this job, I can safely conclude that my profession is a man-repellent. This has been arrived at after some carefully conducted social experiments for e.g. - you walk into a bar and drop the I-banker bomb and Voila! watch how the men make a beeline for the exit. Someone I met explained this quite succintly as " Look, its a simple theory - I like my women cheap and easy. I-banker women make for hard work - who has the time to deal with an intelligent woman!"
I have tried another approach - pretending to be anything from a film editor, primary school teacher and sometimes being as vague as " I work in fashion" - now that apparently, suddenly rings a bell in the mind of the man and you can almost see his brain whirring and whipping up the equation: Fashion = pretty+brainless+ACTION" - Ka-chinggggggg!!! Sometimes, you can also play the game of - "What do you think I do" - I got a range of answers - boring ones - HR, marketing (ofcourse the guy is hoping you do NOTHING cerebral) to the most interesting one was - Professional Gymnast ! I LOVED this one - and figured thats the one I go with - yes, I am a professional gymnast - I have demonstrated great flexiblity to adapt to bullshit bingo, I skip through mindless hurdles and obstacles put forward by my braindead superiors, I race against time to meet deadlines - yup, sounds exactly like me!!

Now, another time I met a lawyer who started with the opening line of " Hey, I work in So-and-So law firm, how are you?" So after boring pleasantries were exchanged, I started inquiring a bit more about his work and asked him what law he practises, so he says " Oh, a little bit of this and that, mostly in finance - private equity financing - but honey, let me not bore you " this smug expression was accompanied with a patronizing pat of my hand and then continued to say "Forget about me, tell me about what You do". 
Now, I was torn between stringing this guy along, batting my eyelids,cooing meekly and saying " WOW - private equity, that sounds soo cool " but chose to say " I am an investment banker, previously worked in PE.Oh, I am also an MBA and specialised in VC & PE".  All of a sudden, you can almost hear the screeching noise as the mental images he is conjuring up come to a grinding halt as he suddenly backtracks, flusters, says he needs some water and is gone quicker than you can say " ROI & IRR"

Now, that's not to say there is no solution to this,the women at my workplace, the very few who have made it to leadership positions in the banking world have devised a great way around this problem.A senior female MD shared it with me at a networking lunch when I questioned her about how she maintains a work-life balance and a family life. She just smiled at me very condescendingly as if thinking " such a naive question - this one knows nothing" and then said very conspiratorially " Just get a stay-at-home husband" .
I laughed and asked hesitantly " no, seriously ?", only to get her offended. " I am being serious - I have a stay at home husband, he looks after the kids while I'm at work - it is very convenient, you should get one of those !!!"

So, I guess, somewhere the men are not wrong for avoiding the i-banker variety, when I finished my lunch, I could only sigh and think - I need a new job!!!

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

The first statistic that they give you in business school is " Majority of you will leave your first jobs after one year of starting it" and all of us looked at each other and said - how stupid can one be, that's definitely not going to happen to me !!
But then,the other day I spent 2 hours of my life resizing logos of companies since my VP wanted them to be re positioned and then another 20 minutes manually updating page numbers of a 70 page presentation. Now there were 2 thoughts running through my head - " I guess they were right " and second was " I paid a 100k for an MBA ". I mean we learnt things like strategy, international business, corporate finance, ethics and values, operations, marketing, accounting etc - the useless stuff. Actually, the course curriculum should have looked something as follows -

  1. Term 1 - Headers and foot notes, page numbers and table of content slide
  2. Term 2 - colors and learning how to change mustard yellow into light yellow (yes, apparently this was so important for one MD - that the night before a presentation was to go out he made the analyst change the colors because he didnt " like " the mustard yellow) 
  3. Term 3 - Powerpoint and MS excel/Advanced excel - waterfall charts, bubble charts, pie charts, all sorts of chart magic that you can weave that will add that special something in your life 
  4. Term 4 - How to deal with and give bull-shit. It will be split into electives - banker talk and consultant talk. The people who go to industry will just have to learn how to communicate normally -  now that cant be helped, hazards of doing a normal job you know. 
See - now this kind of MBA would have been cheaper and would have helped me MUCH more in my current job profile. Instead, I was actually made to believe I would be out there in the real world creating Value and Making a Difference- completely wrong expectation setting. As much as I crib about my work,it seems that its the same across the consulting world as well - so I've been told. Of course, I don't know anything about consulting having never worked in a consulting firm but I always wonder what kind of sales pitch was made to those guys.

It must have gone something like this - Ok guys, we will pay you less money, you will travel 28 days a month, live in shitty hotels, not have a routine, eat unhealthy food, not have a social life, rarely will you stay in one place long enough, you will see flight attendants more often than your family BUT we will do LOTS of team dinners and drinks (to make you feel like you have friends) and we will constantly tell you that U are the bright star shining in the sky. How does that sound?
And all these students dying to get into consulting would have said - yes please, take me, hire me, I ll do this, this sounds so great. 

Whereas the pitch to the bankers was - Ok, you people, we pay you some money and then you are our slaves. Comprende?  
And all the wannabe bankers - just shrugged their shoulders and said - ya, sure, watever. Some of the wannabe consultants would have heard this and said - hey, the money part sounded good,I'm going over to THAT side. 

But the funny part is - my consulting friends seem less frustrated about their jobs than us I-bankers. So - the question I ask is  - Why is that bankers on an average seem more bitter than their consulting counterparts or have I just been meeting the happy campers? It just cant be team dinners and it cannot be the fact there are not enough Type A personalities. Is it because they are all deluded into thinking that their work actually matters OR the fact they get to sleep more and get their weekends free. An inside source who has provided me a sneak peek into consulting life confirms it to be the latter - it seems as long as you can predict your schedule and have some sense of certainty about there being light at the end of the tunnel - apparently you can live with being treated like crap - Go figure!

I was supposed to put up a post on key protagonists in my Comedy of Errors. However, I will have to wait until I am safely tucked away under some mountain rock or when I never have to work for money again. 

Till then, 


Friday, 27 April 2012

" My brain and I have not met in weeks, its been a while, infact I am keeping it in a jar at home - saving it for special occasions"  words from my partner -in-crime, comrade-in-arms, my fellow compatriot in pain raging against the bank by the only we know how - Humor.
Now, the unique thing about the Investment banking industry is that nobody laughs here - if you smile or are happy, it must be 2 things - a) you are going to quit or b) it is bonus day and you hit jackpot. Apart from those 2 reasons - people dont smile and god forbid - if sound of laughter is heard over the floor, shocked glances are exchanged, eyes are rolled, disapproving looks come your way and it can only mean one thing - you are slacking and you have " CAPACITY ".  The dreaded word which basically means that your staffer can smell your free time by a mile and dump extra work on you which means that you are definitely not leaving before 2 am because " gasp, you laugh and look happy-this is just unnatural - we must change this situation At Once !!"

There are other very unique aspects about banking. But the most interesting part is the language that you use in order to impress upon others (normal people) that ofcourse, we are a far superior race with fancy jargon of our own. I did a mini survey amongst the mutually frustrated associates around and here are a few of my personal favorites -

  1. "Do you have capacity? " - This horrible question can be posed at any given time and day but very often comes at a Friday evening at 5pm when you have already checked out mentally and are dreaming of getting out of office. This question essentially means that you will be spending your Friday night & most of the weekend at work, cursing the holy trinity who set Monday morning meetings assuming some poor slave will obviously set aside his/her life to create yet another meaningless presentation which will most likely end up as fancy and glossy toilet paper for the client.
  2. " Only requires 20% associate time " -  This is a tricky one - this is the project every associate is lulled into taking because he/she thinks it will require minimal effort, can dump everything on the analyst and be cruising out of office at 8pm - bzzzzzzzzzzzz - WRONG Answer!! This is usually when the staffer has no clue about what the actual project is, how much time and effort is actually needed, is usually for a very painful MD and it most likely will translate into 120% associate time. 
  3. " You should take a first crack at this " - The most hated one - I do truly loathe this one, this usually comes from the level above you when they couldnt be bothered to use their brain for which they are apparently paid a truckload of money for. This is also commonly used by the sadists that love to see you scramble, make an ass out of yourself by attempting to create material you dont know anything about,for a client you dont care about and then give you a billion comments to prove to you that you know nothing. But I am convinced it helps boost their own self-esteem.  If you are an Associate who learnt this technique the hard way, you shall apply this with your analyst especially when you want to avoid weekend work - I too have used it successfully in the past. 
  4. " You can hold the master on this/ you should run point from here/why dont you hold the pen on this" - All very fancy ways of saying - You Bl#$dy Well Need To Do All the Work 
  5. " Do we have a horse yet" -  Now this one truly perplexed me when one of the MD's sent an email around to entire team asking this question on a deal I was staffed on . As the overzealous new Associate who had just joined the team, I was keen to reply " Well, i actually dont know how to ride  and cant really afford a horse, but can check around if you like ...". Luckily, I thought better of it and asked one of the more experienced associates what this means. Its translates into - wait for it ... " Do we know who the lead advisor is " - how is ANYONE supposed to infer that??! I did imagine what my MD would have thought had he actually gotten my earlier response- I dont think I would have lasted very long in the bank after that. 
  6. " Look, get some rest/dont kill yourself - but we need to have this by tomorrow morning at the latest" - Oh, this one is a real favourite when your MD is trying to be the humanitarian. After you have virtually killed yourself for days on some meaningless piece of analysis and he sort of feels sorry after seeing your disheveled  exhausted and completely fatigued sorry state but yet wants work done.  In my opinion, it is essentially to prevent a potential lawsuit incase I collapse or die on the premises. This way, he can cover his ass and say " well, I told her to go home u know ..." but secretly will think  " Such an inconvenience - she died on the job, who is going to remove the body now .... "
There are many others which definitely warrant a special mention - 
  1. Its not urgent but lets have it by Monday (obviously said to you on a Friday)
  2. We need this ASAP 
  3. We should reach for the low-hanging fruit (senior ppl LOVE this one)
  4. Just so you know .... 
  5. Are you comfortable with the numbers? 
  6. Lets make some money! 
P.S. I realised that I need to add a glossary of terms and explain the hierarchy of the holy trinity for the uninformed of the banking world,so very simply - 
MD - Managing Director (Big Kahuna)
ED - Executive Director/ Principal (Little less powerful than Big Kahuna)
VP - Vice President (Completely irrelevant and useless - potential seat of power but unsure of how to use it/inexperienced. They have to try very hard to assert any authority and are under constant threat of being usurped by very smart Associates)
Associate - Slave 
Analyst - Smallest fish in the pond/ the bottom of the bottom feeders/ women before the right to franchise was introduced - no rights, no power, no life - period. 

Next post - Key protagonists of any bank 

Hasta pronto 

Thursday, 26 April 2012

So for introductions - I'm a recent MBA graduate working for a bulge bracket investment bank in the City. The reason why I write this blog is two fold - the first is that I think my family and close friends are tired of me complaining about my job so I think its time I vented it elsewhere and the second is - today I read an article about an analyst in an investment bank who quit his job, followed his passion and became a musician and is actually happy !! Now I don't really have any apparent talent but I can string together a few sentences in English - so I thought - well, let me try my hand at writing.

Now for those who actually enjoy their investment banking jobs - then this blog is clearly not for you. You are definitely going to get offended and will put up comments like - I'm generalizing, patronizing and condescending so save yourself the heartburn and go on to the " IBD for Fun" webpage or something. For all those - who feel that they actually sit in the bank and ask themselves everyday, sometimes exasperated and many times very depressed " what am I doing here " - then stick around.

For those who are uninitiated into the world of investment banking - now, I'm not an expert having been around only almost a year, but I think that's more than enough time to see things for what they are. I promise to not be another Greg Smith (a.k.a the person who made muppet and Goldman Sachs common parlance) and take 12 years to realize the heinousness of the bank and banking industry. As a junior banker - you spend more time in office than at home (the day they provide beds at work - I can promise you that 80% of the bankers would move out of homes, can you imagine what that does to our take home pay - no longer do I have to spend 50% of my salary in rent - woohoo!!), your weekends and holidays are forfeit, where knowledge of whether you get to go out for dinner or get your Saturday night free is like predicting the lottery and most often you are wrong (you hope you get it free until your wretched MD/ED/ VP ask you to take a " first crack at the presentation/model/document") and where more than 70% of your time is spent bitching and complaining about your lunatic bosses, socially inept colleagues, sleep deprivation and generally bad food and lifestyle.

But the one thing you do learn and that is a very important lesson, when and if you do get free time - how to make the most of that time. You tend to cram in 20 things all in that time to make yourself feel as alive as you possibly can and experience as much joy (shortlived as that may be). I don't think I have met a single " happy " banker, I think they are a myth - like unicorns and the Yeti, perhaps they are out there - somebody must have met them - but not me.

But how can you be? When you are at work 15 - 20 hours a day battling with excel and powerpoint - its not really what you would call a meaningful existence. Add to that the holy trinity of MD/ED/VP - who have been put on this earth with the sole purpose of ruining your personal life - then your daily emotions fluctuate between consternation (e.g. We have a " sit-down" on Friday evening at 7 pm to discuss a deliverable due on Wednesday) to frustration (e.g. This is the 100th version of the presentation in our attempt to reach world records of excellence because the previous 99 versions werent " good enough ") to finally murderous rage (e.g. - when your MD comes and tells you - " Guys, we need to re-build this excel model from scratch - the assumptions you used were wrong and yes, you ll have to spend the weekend on this".)

However, a lot of what is written is tongue and cheek - there are normal people in the bank (very few - but they do exist) and those are people you are likely to bond with. So like in all firms - boss bashing is a favourite activity, however in banks the humor tends to take a turn towards the perverse where the most outlandish ways of expressing dissatisfaction solicit the most laughs from the generally humor deprived exhausted souls.

For e.g. - the thought of taking a dump at your staffer's desk is talked about with great relish and the kind of food one must ingest to produce the right quality and quantity is a focal point of discussion.
Another is sexual proclivities and the amount of action your MD/ED/VP gets - it is obviously very limited since they take great pleasure in screwing the junior bankers at work instead metaphorically ofcourse.

Commonly swapped stories are " how painful is your MD" / " how intense is that VP" " how many useless mark-ups and iterations does your ED provide ". It is common to start a project and ask your analyst about the MD in question i.e. how painful he is and type of comments he provides. Responses ranging from " very light (huge sigh of relief with visible outtake of breath) to " OMG - he is f#$ing insane (sinking feeling in stomach) will determine your stress levels and frustration for the next few weeks and months.

So, this was just the primer written on the few nights that I actually came back at a reasonable hour (read as 11pm). Hopefully, I am able to keep this up.

Till next time,