Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Rules

Living the Dream
Certain friends and acquaintances of mine have informed me on occasion of the existence of a website dedicated to codifying and promoting the rules of a secret society of bicyclists known as the Velominati. The Rules, as they describe them, are an interesting attempt to lay down a code of behavior for its members based upon honor, discipline, and a slightly suspect penchant for tight black riding shorts.

It occurred to me recently that a few of you among my regular readers might appreciate a similar codification of the rules of behavior for corporate finance and M&A investment bankers, minus the Spandex fetish.1 Accordingly, here they are. Use them wisely, and with moderation.

* * *

Rule #1 — Obey The Rules.

Rule #2 — Lead by example.
It is forbidden for someone familiar with The Rules to knowingly breach The Rules or assist another person to breach them.

Rule #3 — Guide the uninitiated.
Investment banking is an apprenticeship business. Whether your charge is McKinley C. Higginbotham IV, scion of a long line of hoary investment bankers stretching back to the founding of Dillon Read at the dawn of the Pleistocene, or Mahindra P. Parametheswamenameran, fresh off the Tuesday boat from Mumbai with an I.Q. of 215, rest assured he or she knows absolutely jack shit about what to do with a client, a deal, or even a spreadsheet. Teach them, or consign your sorry, underleveraged ass to an early “retirement.”

Rule #4 — It’s all about the money.
It is absolutely, without question, unequivocally about the money. Anyone who says otherwise is a liar, a regulator, an MBA career counselor, or Matt Taibbi.2

Rule #5 — Harden The Fuck Up.
If you forget every other rule, remember this one.

Rule #6 — Free your mind, and your career will follow.
You are not paid to think. You are not that fucking smart. You are paid to do what the client wants you to do. Go do it. The time to add real insight, to offer careful, considered judgment, is before you get hired. Then, and only then, can you tell the client what you think they should do.3 After they hire you, they own your sorry ass. Apply your overwhelming intellect to how and when to achieve their objectives, not why.

Rule #7 — Dress like a professional, not like a clown.
Wear a suit. Buy good shoes. Own more than six ties. I don’t care what your clients wear, they expect you to look the part of a slick, overeducated, hyperaggressive, insanely successful mercenary. Bulletin: the clients who wear blue jeans and sneakers expect their bankers to be dressed to the nines, too, not like themselves, because they instinctively know the difference between an entrepreneur and a professional servant. You are a servant. Dress like one. Oh, and one thing more: no two-tone shirts, banker collars, suspenders, or bowties, unless you are God, a bajillionaire, or Felix Rohatyn. Or all of the above. Nobody wants to hire a fop.

Rule #8 — Investment banking travel is for badasses. Period.
Unless you are a management consultant or a senior petroleum engineer for a global integrated oil company,4 you have no idea what high stakes business travel really is. It’s getting up at 4:30 in the morning to catch a flight across three time zones to meet with some asshole client who’d as soon as piss on you as take a meeting. It’s getting a call at your Milan hotel in the middle of a weeklong business trip to catch the next flight to Beijing for a two hour meeting with a bunch of government officials you’ve never even met. It’s traveling to some of the most famous and exotic destinations on the planet, only to have them all look the same: airport—>taxi—>hotel room—>taxi—>conference room—> taxi—>airport. It’s learning to become a connoisseur of hotel room service, a Jedi Master of airport Starbucks. Forget about private planes. Those are for clients and the senior executives at the top of your firm. Forget about first class. The only time you’ll get to the front of the plane is when you pay for it with your own money or the umpty billion upgrades you’ve earned by traveling to Hell and back a bajillion times this month alone. So travel like you mean it. Don’t fuck around: Rollerboards are for pussies. Checking luggage is for young families on vacation and old ladies. Neck pillows are for moral degenerates. When in doubt, see Rule #5.

Rule #9 — It never gets easier, you just make more money.
Investment banking is hard. It stays hard. The more success you have, the higher your clients’, managers’, and shareholders’ expectations rise. You’re only as good as your last trade or your last deal. Last year was last year, asshole: what have you done for me lately? Furthermore, the higher you rise in the pyramid, the closer you come to the clients, managers, and shareholders and their unrelenting, unreasonable, unjustifiable demands. Sur la Plaque, fucktards. See Rule #5.

Rule #10 — Don’t be a scumbag.
The pressure, the money, and the prestige will tempt you to cut corners. To steal credit. To stab colleagues and subordinates in the back. To gutlessly steamroll brighteyed young acolytes in the name of shareholder returns or your own personal compensation. Resist this. Don’t be a fucktard. Don’t be a gutless pussy. The life of an investment banker is nasty, brutish, and short. But if you can manage to avoid succumbing to the myriad base temptations to screw people over the profession offers you, you will earn a reputation as a... as a...

Oh, screw it. You won’t earn any reputation at all, except maybe among a few hundred of your professional colleagues. The general public won’t ever know or care about you at all.

But since when did you care what the general public thinks? Matt Taibbi sure doesn’t think you do.

1 There are only two rules for my colleagues on the other side of the house, in Sales and Trading: 1) Don’t get caught; and 2) Don’t eat more than two onion cheeseburgers before 8:30 am every morning.
2 Regardless of what Matt Taibbi says, of course, it’s not all about the money. But let’s level set, shall we? Matt Taibbi’s not as stupid as he sounds.
3 If you have the balls. And senior management’s support.
4 And if you are, why the fuck do you travel like me while getting paid a fraction of what I do? You’re smarter than that.

© 2012 The Epicurean Dealmaker. All rights reserved.