End of Year Review – Part 1: “Lost Then Found”

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Why do we say things we can’t take back / Why do we miss what we never had

My dirty secret is that sometimes I wish my life were a movie. (Or at least a particularly emotionally exciting music video.) Well, the last 12 months have some of the most emotionally turbulent times of my young life so far. The term “emotional roller coaster” doesn’t even begin to describe it all.

Well, that first phase of my professional life ended earlier this week when I got my “number” and could calmly head off to vacation – aka my “no-sleep-tour” of 5 cities in 9 days. This is after I just moved into a new apartment with a open kitchen / bar stool setup and a basketball court three floors below me and a beautiful oil painting that I received as a gift from someone special. And after I spent a good chunk of time 1) just staring at my bank account, 2) paying down debts and 3) acquiring objects of desire that I have eyed for months on amazon.com; I finally got around to putting some thoughts on paper wordpress.

If that last paragraph sounded like a humblebrag….well, too bad. I was trying to figure out how to talk about that, most, banker-fied of moments – getting your bonus – without sounding like a douche. Well, I just have to give up on that and instead take it as an accomplishment.

They say that money doesn’t make you happy. Well, to me, being able to accomplish my goals and do the things that I’ve wanted to do for months, for years…because I now have the money to do it….that makes me happy. Since even before college, I’ve dreamed and thought getting that number and having it justify the insomnia that I knew I would pick up. Over the next couple years, I quantified those dreams and put them into my amazon.com shopping cart 🙂 So is it still superficial and materialistic to say that I feel like I’ve accomplished some goals that I set out to?

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The other mitigating factor in my humblebrag is that I’m using this as a shout-out to the people who helped me go from “lost” to “found”. You don’t go on a emotional roller coaster without reaching both peaks and troughs…and if the last couple weeks have been some crazy highs, well, it’s only been possible because there’s been some crazy lows in the preceding 12 months too. And as much as my pride would like me to think that I did it all on my own, I had a lot of support and so my rewards this year is something that I appreciate that much more. To those who helped me through “lost then found”, you know who you are…thank you.

And Another One (and another one) Bites the Dust

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“There are two ways to live your life, you can go to work or school everyday and do whatever you do and then go home and sit there OR you can seize life by its throat and choke it until it dies.” -Jimmy Kimmel

Yes, this is another post about people quitting this place. Yes, I’m running out of ways to open up blog posts about analyst quitting. Yes, I stumbled upon the awesome quote above whilst procrastinating by youtube-ing Olympics stuff (and yes, I even procrastinate about writing a blog post).

So yes, it’s been quite the revolving door here. But you know what I realized? The sky doesn’t fall down whenever someone leaves – no matter how much institutional knowledge that person possesses, no matter how little transitioning period there is, no matter how fresh the replacements are.

The lesson? Never make career choices because of someone else, look out for number one, forever and always. In other words, you got to take life by the throat and choke it.

In two very different ways, that’s why two of our most recent sub-VP level bankers left. You get comfortable, inertia takes over, and then one day, you wonder how you ever got to that spot in the first place.

Case in point: On a particularly late Sunday night, one of our interns said, “I can’t believe I’m going into an industry where you have to stay until 3am on a Sunday night because you didn’t do enough work over the weekend.”

And like our two recently “quitted” members, there’s been many times when I’ve wondered how I got to this place. When did it become normal to leave the office at 1am every night?

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The flip side of this is the actual act of quitting. Lots of closed door talks. A bit of flair and a bit of dramatics. In some ways it makes sense as it is the biggest weapon in your arsenal, but remember how I said there appears to be a lot of leverage on our sides? Well, that leverage, like a nuclear weapon, only works to your advantage if you DON’T use it.

In college, I witnessed had pretty dramatical resignations. Like the dumper to the dumpee, that moment of resigning must carry with it a confluence of emotions, designed to help the resigner cope with the guilt.

But resigning your 6-figure-paying job shouldn’t be like quitting a college club or a ending a teenage relationship. Those are fraught with emotions and admittedly some immaturity. In a slightly more ideal environment, it should never come to that point, since we get paid on a biweekly basis….we should at least reevaluate our situation on a bimonthly basis?

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I guess there’s no real brilliant insight here other than to say that you have to occasionally stop and think about what you’re doing, or else you reach a breaking point and it will be life that chokes you – and not the other way around.

Is It Enough? Part Quatre

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The one is a tough one to write, partly because I wasn’t sure how to word it properly, but mostly because I like having female friends who don’t think I’m a misogynist douche.

So I’ve thought about this topic ever since someone I used to know told me that she no longer had grand aspirations of “climbing the corporate ladder” but that her main goals are 1) big family, 2) close friends, and 3) happy and steady job. (Yes, like all the other stories, she’s asian, short, funny, smart, and sexy as hell…but that’s besides the point.) The point is, it got me to looking around at girls that I know in corporate america and wondering if there’s a lower threshold for is-it-enough-ness?

I probably most definitely see this through a set of frames twisted by too much time in male-dominated finance. But there has to be a reason why so many of the job search emails that I see come from guys in middle-office, back-office, no-office finance jobs, while I know plenty of girls in corporate support, tech ops, security(?), accounting and are completely happy with it. In a word from my small and biased sample size, do more guys want to transition to something they perceive to be more challenging, while more girls want to go somewhere they perceive to less stressful?

But then, I read this article and realized that I actually have it backwards.

It’s not that guys are more ambitious, but its that men have redefined ambition to be out of the reach of girls.

Modern day banking is the test tube for this experiment. See, E just talked about banking in terms akin to Navy SEALS…yet our job is to just follow directions and work through MS Office as fast as possible. Other than lack of sleep, analysts love to point out how much they can avoid using the mouse. The dichotomy is that the Code of Manly Behavior asks analysts to take pride in working long hours, but the same Code probably would look down upon the analysts acting subservient to another man. Of course, quitting probably is cowardly, but is it cowardly to quit because you are being taken for granted by your bosses?

When men ask it is enough, we think only of external and tangible benefits – so of course we think some girls aren’t as ambitious. But perhaps, if we think about internal work and intangible results, we’d see that girls are actually much more ambitious than men.

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P.S. A couple of relevant things made me add an addendum to this.

One) The brother of a friend of mine asked his gf to be his assistant. Mind you, this is an Ivy League-educated (though, it’s the one in NJ unfortunately :-p), works in a top 5 consulting firm and makes 2-3x the salary of an average assistant. Would you ask the same of it was a guy?

One-and-half) Just to show that I’m not immune to stupidity, I was an idiot and said something about assistants and realized how offended a girl would be to think that they are not as ambitious as a guy.

Two) Someone wrote an article “Can you have it all?” and spawned a world of debate.

Three) I’ve spent some time with someone, who, while not in the ultra-competitive world that I’ve spent way too much time in now, is still in a pretty high pressure office environment. And she’s taught me that – forget the family v. career debate – but that there’s multiple ways to be productive in your career in your early 20’s. Just because someone isn’t pulling as many hours as you are, it could just mean that they are doing something else outside of work to improve themselves. And it’s probably more efficient that you are doing…

Not Loving It, Or Hating It

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I don’t often write about sports, but whenever the most polarizing sports team of the last couple years wins the championship in my favoritest sport AND I can find an analogy to my two most favoritest topics…I must.

Well, last week, that polarizing team decided that celebrating in Miami was much better than celebrating in Oklahoma and in the process tried to coin a phrase that hits very close to home: “No Sleep.” I say polarizing, but to be honest, only those residing in the lower third of Florida and those who never followed sports really like the team. So it’s really just the debate about the debate that makes the team polarizing. But then the only logical question to ask is: why do you have to pick a side? Personally, I’m a Philadelphia fan – if my team isn’t in it, I don’t particularly care who wins as long as there is a good game. Life is hard enough as it is without having to see everything as black or white…

Same with our jobs. You either are lucky as hell and found something that you are extremely passionate about. Or you are stuck in a job that you loathe. But I’m here, surviving fine. I know this job isn’t for me in the long-run but I’m perfectly fine milking what I can from it while I can. I obviously don’t love it. But I don’t hate it either. So stop it – stop trying to make me pick. It’s just a job, it’s not my life – even if I spend 75% of my waking hours doing it. (And yes, I would say the same even if I loved it.)

Same with girls, whom I must definitely love. (Yes, you know I had to go there.) Asian All girls are complicated enough without having your friends try to force you to define whatever relationship (yes, you know who you are.) If I like her, shouldn’t that be enough? Or why do I have to not [replace with some Chinese saying about letting the river run its course]? Why not just enjoy the ambiguous phase when you don’t know what’s going to happen? After all, as someone much wittier, but shorter, than I described YOLO as: “death is final…but life is full of possibilities”.

So let me enjoy it while I can. While I can still possess the ability to not sleep. And I don’t have to define things. Because you know English is not my strong suit.

I’ve Got an Itch…Can You Scratch it for Me?

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(Disclaimer: Major justification up ahead)

It got a little dusty in our offices this week. Friday afternoon was the last day for our second year analysts and despite the love / hate relationship that we shared, there was nothing but love around 4pm yesterday. It’s surreal how you see people everyday for 18ish hours for 50ish weeks and then just like that they’re gone. Really puts things in…

Wait, wait, wait. Cut. Fuck that. What am I saying. No easy buckets. No deep thoughts here.

Because it has been one of the craziest weeks I’ve ever had in banking lyfe, who has time for emotional mambo jumbo. As I stood in the middle of some random guy’s birthday party last night, talking to people I don’t remember the name of and probably will never see again, and half-heartedly talking to a short asian girl (who was NOT cute, phew)…I thought, “what wait? I need to sleep.”

Why? Well, take your pick from:

  • Pulled two all-nighters this week – which is good because I didn’t install the AC in my apartment yet so it was too hot to sleep there anyway
  • Still managed to go out three times this week – couldn’t sleep after staying up for 36 straight hours anyways
  • Planned an awesome dinner (yay!) and got blamed for lack attendees from senior guys (boo!) – but laughed in the face of the blamer (and got called out for it like I was in fifth grade, “you think this is amusing?”)
  • Heard “wait, you’re on this deal too?!” not once, not twice, but three times – I’m overstaffed!
  • Heard “you’re not allowed to work on ___, you have to work on ____” too many times to count – respect?
  • Meanwhile, someone else here is completely free – I pity the fool
  • Not one, but two directors sat in my cube cranking on my excel because I just got introduced this behemoth of a 80mb model – I staffed up my directors!
  • I spelled our clients name wrong in a presentation and my MD apologized for it on the conference call – I only let that MD and girls I like to call me by my pet name
  • I have to take care of things like “find out why we got double invoiced on J’s deal toys” – because I have don’t have enough important things to do 
  • I get an email from my VP saying “why is this guy so f-ing stupid, I’m done working on this, you do it”, “it” being send out an email at 11pm on Friday night – because I have so much free time
  • I get a phone call from a MD on the West Coast and…ignored it – no seriously, I have too much free time and not enough important things to do
  • Random one-liners: listening to our MD talk about Call Me Maybe parodies, getting asked my number of all-nighters is over/under 10, arguing that I would never throw ex-colleagues under the bus – lots of fun in banking
  • As our second years left, they passed down some things…I got the Alcoholics Anonymous book – sign of??
  • Most memorable line from our departing guys about me – “You are the biggest smokescreen here”

Through all the other guys saying “you are so f’d” and “I’ve never seen an analysts get dumped on so much” – hey I’m on 7 live deals and serve as HR and as party-planner-in-chief – I try my hardest to keep smiling and laugh when most inappropriate. Because I feel like this is a challenge: how much shit can you pile on me and I still keep laughing at it. Because the third worst thing that can happy to a 24 year old guy has already happened, so there’s nothing you can do to me that…

Highlander

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So I chose the title “Highlander” because I coincidentally already used the title “Survival” in my prior post. Today, one of my good friends and banking partners, someone who was in the same class as me several years ago, left our firm. He’s not leaving banking, he’s joining a boutique, for arguably better pay and prospects at hitting it big. I was so happy for him, but also felt very sad.

What is funny though, is that sometimes when people leave or get fired, the other people in that person’s class gets a boost of energy, goes around the floor, chatting everyone up, feeling confident and happy. It’s survival, but it’s like they get a dose of the Highlander high when a fellow warrior falls. That is, there can be only one, and with each fallen comrade, the strength (i.e. cockiness) of those remaining grows.

There can be only one… but no need to be a little bitch.

I was never one of those. I love the people I work with, especially those that are good, and those that have stuck it out with me for so long. I have a particular respect for the veterans. I make my friends at work, and because they are my friends, I want them to stay with me and fight.

If there’s one very important lesson learned, it’s that those who see this game as a rat race and cut-throat game to become big swinging dick, are correct. Banking is, like many things, a pyramid-shaped process of elimination to the top, just as the military would be, a gang would be, any company or organization in fact. The thing is, some people over-play their hand, over-sell their abilities, and just let certain things get to their head. In the younger generation, there is an alarming lack of class at times, and it’s very off-putting. Imagine if this was Highlander, or- to use a more common analogy- Survivor.  You know, one of those cocky contestants trying to sabotage his fellow competitors.

I’ve seen this behavior a lot- even during the first cuts of the financial crisis. But ultimately, it’s the men and women who stay humble, and let their work/actions speak for themselves, that are the strongest. The strongest do not need to go around celebrating or promoting their successes. Those of you who have observed this self-promotion, cockiness, etc. can understand: it’s very obvious and looks very poor.

Survive and win, but survive and win with class please.

 

Survival

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Jumping on Wall Street Oasis (or other similar website) always gives me a good laugh. Don’t get me wrong, I think WSO is brilliant, it gets funny when I get to the whining from another disillusioned analyst talking about how much he hated his job, or the unreasonable bosses, or mind numbing work, and so on and so forth. Just the pure short-sightedness and lack of maturity that recent-grads seem to have lately. I know what it’s like to be in analyst hell, 20 hour workdays, going 2-3 days without sleeping, skipping meals, and getting yelled at. Heck I started at a time when you could still throw stuff at your analyst and berate them as needed.

One day I thought about why reading about said whining was so funny, and realized the following things.

1) Yes, banking is not what it used to be, not even close

  • Banking used to be the modern-day-equivalent of being knighted. Like being adopted into an exclusive line of royal blood, and being granted a large plot of land, servants, and many whores (pardon my language, been watching game of thrones). Everything you saw in the movies and read about in books was true. It truly meant jumping to the top of the food chain by signing on the dotted line and collecting a nice bonus.
  • As banks merged, consolidated and IPO’d (I take Goldman’s 1999 IPO as one of the most important milestones), there was greater public scrutiny of banks’ activities, what they expensed, and their policies. So you can’t come in thinking you’re going to get the Gordon Gekko experience (kids are starting to figure that out now).

2) The economy is shit

  • Obviously.
  • But just in case, for the slow ones out there (and those still complaining), lower banking fees means lower pay, means cutting people, means fewer people on staff to handle deals including MDs going out and chasing low-fee deals, means lower marginal utility, means you still don’t get paid properly but you work just as much, means your life is shit. Economy = your life = shit. Deal with it, we live in a high beta industry.

3) Today, knowledge is cheap and experience is priceless

  • Nowadays, it’s much too easy to learn anything. Anybody with an internet connection can go out there and figure out how to do a DCF or figure out what EBITDA is etc. But very few people have the maturity and experience to advise a client.
  • It’s something like war in that everyone can shoot a rifle downrange and explain free cash flow. It’s only on the intern and analyst battlefield that you can sort out the real bankers. So you need to pay your dues with a few years in the field, as the “apprenticeship” in practice now takes longer.

So add all that up, and reading about complaints is funny because the analyst process simply weeds out the weak bunch. It’s similar to when someone volunteers to become a Navy SEAL, or BOPE (pictured), or other elite military program. You’re signing up for the pain, to join one of the most elite and selective jobs in the world in your early 20s. You have to earn things, be tested, and prove yourself. You aren’t forced to live in the jungle for 3 days without food, water, or shelter just for fun. It’s to test your physical ability, mental capacity and ability to stay sharp, and to test how dedicated you are the cause.

Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais (Portuguese for Special Police Operations Battalion), mostly known by its acronym BOPE, is a special forces unit of the Military Police of Rio de Janeiro.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now I’m not saying that banking is 100% awesome, you have to get a bit lucky. That is, if you get into a great group with great bankers and  perform well, you could be set for life by doing good work for a rainmaker, and following him/her to other banks, buysides, and boards. Alternatively, you can land in a sweatshop, or some 7th-ring-of-hell low-tier bank and just be enslaved for a 2-3 year period out of college (I’ve seen it happen… to my cousin).

If you can survive the analyst hell, accept and learn to cope with the responsibility of being a banker, approach the job with some maturity, and have the right personality… banking is an extremely rewarding job. Just like any other job, so long as you’re interested in the subject matter. In the right spot, you will continuously be learning, engaging with good and interesting people, create real value for companies, and begin to make a difference, while always being challenged. Oh, and if things are good, you get compensated for your hard work.

Those of you out there and suffering through the pain of finance now, keep your heads up. Survival right now is the most important thing you can do, especially you young guns. Because while you are surviving, you are building up invaluable experience. And once the economy gets better and the demand for your skills grows, you will be among the scarce few that has weathered the storm, and can ride the wave. Just make sure this is what you want to do, so you don’t waste your time.

Is It Enough? Part Tres

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Someone once asked me what the hardest thing about banking is. Well, nothing really is hard. But if I had to give a semi-truthful answer…it’s not the finance, the hours, the screaming bosses, making sure you don’t wear the same pants four days in a row, the 99% correctness = fail, or even keeping your weight down…it’s dealing with a completely paradoxical environment 85 hours a week.

Our job, as a departing analyst put it so eloquently, is to just “fucking do what you are told.” Two summers ago, my associate famously told me, “there’s no independent thought in banking.” But then why do I get a comment like this one today: “you have no pride in your work”?

During my mid-year review, I was told my greatest flaw was doing things exactly as I was instructed – no more, no less. Apparently, if I’m asked to do A, B, and C, I should also try to do D, E, F, and maybe G too – aka read their mind and give them what they didn’t ask for.

The biggest problem with dealing with these irregularities is that at some point it becomes too hard to tell what’s real from what’s imagined. I hear what my instructions are but I also know what I should do or what they historically have told me to do…and if those mismatch, I forget what’s the actual instructions and what’s subconsciously filled in by my own head.

I’m asked to take pride in my work, but if I know the book is not going to be read and the deal is going to die, should I just pretend it’s real anyway? If you pretend every superfluous pitch, silly analysis, useless due diligence is real, then how do flip the switch and gear yourself up for when it does get real?

But being in an environment like banking lets you realize what things outside of work actually is REAL. Take my best friend at work, S. His plans to move in with his girlfriend of 10 months this weekend is the real inspiration for this post. Throw out the jokes about the putting on the shackles at age 23 and remember that their relationship just went through the worst job-related 10-month stretch that $70,000 / year can buy. You can’t argue with that kind of realness.

And so, is it enough to know that you have at least one thing in your life that is real?

I Might Have Developed a Complex

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1) I asked my staffer for more work and he said “aren’t you over-staffed” – probably the first time in investment banking history that a staffer has uttered those words

2) Had a project-off with my co-worker…we forgot more projects than we were able to actually list out

3) Wait….I intentionally set a meeting for 830am tomorrow today???

4) So I’m on a first name basis with all of my co-workers’ gf’s and have never met them in person

5) Sign #96 that I cant get asian girls to listen to me: Her: “Stop trying to staff me up!” Me: “Wait, isn’t that your job?” Her: “:(” Me: “Ok, fine I’ll do it”

6) Sign #54 that procrastination is how you get shit done: Literally have not gotten to Fedex more than 15 minutes before closing time

7) Great lines of the day:

– “You’re not rebelling against society by being a poorly-dressed investment banker. You’re a cube monkey…you might as well be a well-dressed cube monkey.” (I’m going to miss you P) (gulp)

-“Do the three books for a Thursday meeting and I’ll tell which you which one I’ll go to.” (paraphrased)

-“So is it awkward to go to dim sum because of the one person taking them, the fact you are taking a party bus, or because it’s dim sum.” (uhm, all of the above?)

-“I say it’s easy, but I know it might take a while.” (oh, right because nothing we do is hard, d’oh)

-“WTF, this place is so racist, someone left a fortune cookie on my desk.” (actually an asian person did it)

Lastly) Tried to open my model, at 4:30am, it’s taking 10 minutes+…fuck it, I’m going home

The Mexican Fisherman

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A story that I first heard in my undergrad years during recruiting, and one that I’ve learned to appreciate over the years in banking. This will be my only copy+paste post

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An American businessman was standing at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish.

“How long it took you to catch them?” The American asked.

“Only a little while.” The Mexican replied.

“Why don’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?” The American then asked.

“I have enough to support my family’s immediate needs.” The Mexican said.

“But,” The American then asked, “What do you do with the rest of your time?”

The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos, I have a full and busy life, senor.”

The American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds you buy a bigger boat, and with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats.”

“Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the consumers, eventually opening your own can factory. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually NYC where you will run your expanding enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But senor, how long will this all take?”

To which the American replied, “15-20 years.”

“But what then, senor?”

The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO (Initial Public Offering) and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions.”

“Millions, senor? Then what?”

The American said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos…”
***