From Ron Beller to Stan O’Neal and Eliot Spitzer, the ground’s littered with once-gilded creatures who’ve fallen down to earth.
Their attempts to bounce back up could be of value to anyone else who happens to a) lose 1bn, b) lose $8.6bn, or c) get caught (allegedly) paying $4.3k to do “very basic things” with a prostitute. Alternatively, you might also be able to use them if you lose your job.
Technique number one: Tears
Employed by Ron Beller, the former Goldman Sachs star trader who was so busy/rich that he failed to notice secretary Joyti De-Laurey pilfering 1.1m from his bank account back in 2004, tears make the mighty seem humble. Beller is thought to have squeezed a few out during last week’s conference call with investors, during which he apologised for losing 1bn on ABS investments.
This technique is worth remembering if you work at one of the many other hedge funds that are said to be struggling, or if you’re Steve Schwarzman at Blackstone and your share price has halved. If you’re known to be hysterical, your boss may even think twice before getting rid of you for fear of the dribbling histrionics that might ensue.
Technique number two: Poor boy made good
Next time a House Committee scrutinises your pay package, remember to emphasise your humble origins. This was employed by both Stan O’Neal and Chuck Prince – respectively ejected from the chief executive spots at Merrill Lynch and Citigroup. During last week’s grilling by the House Committee on Government and Oversight Reform, O’Neal pointed out that his grandfather was a slave and his childhood home had no plumbing, while Prince laid claim to the honour of being the first in his family to go to college.
This technique has the advantage of implying that all that cash is simply a ‘nice to have’ and you’d be quite happy going back to eating Pot Noodles and driving a Mini Metro. If you’re in danger of losing your job, a gaggle of needy dependents and a conspicuous lack of rich relatives may also make your boss take pity on you – particularly if you live in Italy where such considerations are obligatory.
Technique number three: Refer to your principles
Clutched at by Eliot Spitzer, scourge of Wall Street analysts, and until yesterday the whiter than white Governor of New York.
This has the advantage of suggesting that you do, in fact, have some principles, and that you merely forgot them in the heat of the moment. It’s likely to prove especially valuable to anyone accused of insider trading or of visiting lap dancing clubs on expenses.
And if these techniques fail? The surest way to bounce back is to swallow your pride. Beller may yet salvage his dignity running a much smaller fund. Spitzer, who will be forced to resign, could become a mere attorney frequenting call girls of the less than $4k variety. And O’Neal and Prince can comfort themselves that they’ve banked enough to live out their retirements on the golf course.
For the average banker who falls down to earth, however, the best bet is to lower your expectations – fast. Top-tier banks aren’t hiring now, but second and third-tier ones are. Forget Goldman, Merrill and Morgan Stanley, think VTB, Kit Bank and Mediobanca – and you may bounce back to live another day.