Anyone who manages to secure more than one job offer in the current death spiral which is affecting the financial sector can count themselves very lucky. Or not. I speak from experience here. My parable is not a pretty one. It involves a very senior figure in London’s M&A community.
This banker made me a job offer in my final year of university, which I politely rejected. He turned out to be hugely influential in the City and he has haunted me ever since, even though I know it was the right thing for me to do.
As good as William (not his real name) is at deal-making, he is an eccentric figure. He once drove from his house in West London to Heathrow airport at 5 a.m. – in reverse. His car gearbox was stuck and he had a client meeting in Moscow which he couldn’t possibly miss.
Part of that eccentricism was that he either loved you or hated you. And at the graduate presentation where we met, he loved me. In retrospect, this made sense. I was one of the only students there who were smartly dressed, sober (no free booze for me thanks), and well-prepared.
Whilst the other peons mumbled questions like, “How much money can I earn in five years of investment banking, before I retire to live on a farm on the countryside?,” or “I hear bankers work long hours, is that really true?” (I couldn’t have made them up – those are both completely true) I asked about more astute topics such as the connection between natural resources sector M&A and commodity price booms, and why M&A deals tend to destroy value (not an easy topic to ask a banker, about but he respected me for posing it intelligently).
He handed me his card and asked me to email him the day that I submitted my online application. I did, and the very next day I got an invitation to interview at the bank. None of my friends had received any kind of response yet, and we had all applied to the same firms.
I was almost chauffeur-driven through the interview process, and at every meeting I had people asked, “So you are William’s famous protégé?” My job offer arrived a day after my final rounds.
This is where my problems began. A week later, I got another offer from a larger bank. The salary was higher and the graduate training programme was more extensive. William’s bank became my “insurance offer”.
I said yes. The next day, I telephoned William to explain why it wasn’t the right thing for me to do to join his team. The conversation was short and sweet. “You’ll regret this,” was his only response before hanging up.
I thought that was the end of the matter. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Time after time, my decision has come back to bite me in the rear-end. My largest, most lucrative and most CV-worthy transactions happened to have been co-mandates with William’s bank. His influence was clear in the uneasy relationship between my bank and his. I spent many a late night on wild goose chases dreamed up vindictively by him and his team.
I even found he had stymied my chances of getting membership to an exclusive London club. Not even a member himself, he pulled strings to make sure I didn’t get in.
I’m not really sure if there is a moral to my story. Looking back, I wouldn’t have done anything differently – I couldn’t have! But William never let me forget that I had slighted him. To paraphrase the old saying: “Hell hath no fury like a banker scorned”.
The author works in investment banking and lives in London.