Looking back on the go-go years in high finance, one of the most satisfying aspects of industry careers had to be how dynamic they were for so many people. Whether from innovative product development, emerging technologies or access to once-closed markets, entirely new businesses appeared from nowhere, and managers and staff were needed to run them. People were not just upwardly mobile through promotion - fabulous lateral opportunities abounded, too.
Of course many people chose a different path. They opted to bounce from firm to firm, to “double away” every couple of years and lock in another guarantee until the next switch: same job, different place. In those heady days, the temptation to play the system for all one could extract was too much for many bankers and traders to resist, real career development be damned. Though usually proving pointless, poaching rivals’ staff perpetuated the process. Teams suffered, you might say, even if individual players lined pockets sewn in Savile Row.
There will always be exceptions, but in the fullness of time, I think, the most fulfilling financial careers had staying power. Sure, some people settled in too casually, a bit like furniture, but more often the keepers forged deeper relationships with peers and with management, and benefited from mutual familiarity with the institution that was their employer. Back in the day, talented staff were encouraged to hop between businesses and even whole divisions and were the beneficiaries of exciting opportunities and fresh challenges. In some ways, it was like having many careers with one firm.
Sadly, fallout from the ongoing financial crisis looks certain to make these kinds of long and varied career paths within one firm less common. Nowadays, people at the biggest firms mostly play defense, and it’s hard to spot new opportunities when you’re constantly glancing back over your shoulder. The idea of holding down a job at one bank for a whole career sounds as anachronistic as working one’s whole life on some car assembly line. And maybe just about as interesting.
So, what are the options? You can stick with your employer and hope requited loyalty spares you the axe. A more constructive approach, surely, is to choose junctures in one’s life to make significant changes, within finance or beyond it. After all, anyone smart enough to qualify amidst the fierce competition in banks and trading and fund management should also aspire to loftier goals. Carpe Diem!
Eli Lederman is the former CEO of Turquoise, the pan-European stock market. Prior to that he was a managing director at Morgan Stanley where he had a 14 year career. He is the author of “HIGH FINANCE – a Wall Street novel” which is available now worldwide.