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,