As Goldman Sachs’ ordeal clearly illustrates, hubris can lead to horrible grovelling. Remember this: financial services is a cyclical industry. Things change fast. You may be popular now, but that won’t always be so.
As a junior in an M&A team, I saw a stream of my peers move to roles in private equity and hedge funds. They were paid better and, more importantly, they did more interesting work.
My CV boasted of how my work as an analyst had taught me, “strong modelling and valuation skills,” but it had also made me a pass master at Powerpoint formatting and bribing Terry the print-room guy to move my job to the top of his queue so that I could snatch a few hours sleep, before another 18-hour fun bonanza began.
In retrospect, I like to think of myself as leading the cycle. I left banking at the start of the credit crisis before hedge funds started to experience mass redemptions and PE firms had to start writing down the value of their portfolios.
At that point, even the lowliest grunts in these firms still considered themselves demi-gods. Networking had always been a big part of my career success, so I started going through my contacts.
If I could get enough 15 minute coffees and breakfast meetings with these guys someone was bound to put in a good word for me, right?
To some extent, it worked, even if it meant subjecting myself to an extended spiel about how great the person was (sometimes true, often not, according to people who used to work with them), and how much better their current role was compared to anything banking offered (generally true).
Inflated egos, junior job titles
What was particularly surprising, was how highly these people thought of themselves – despite the fact that only a few years’ previously we’d been in identical positions on banks’ graduate recruitment programmes.
By comparison, hedge fund founders and masters of the universe tended to be a lot more helpful, if blunt.
After I emailed my five line “elevator pitch” to the founder of a high profile London based credit fund, he replied asking me what I had done in my gap year. When I sent my reply, which was similarly brief, he obviously felt I had missed his point; “either answer my question or don’t reply at all” was his response.
I also managed to get hold of the personal email address of the Chief Investment Officer of a well-established European long-short equity hedge fund.
He politely declined my request for a brief meeting, but when I requested a short telephone call, he agreed. “This is my Oxford farm-house number, this is my flat in Belgravia. Don’t call until 6pm on Sunday, I’ll be in Monaco”.
How the mighty are fallen
Refreshingly, things are now coming full circle, particularly for the over-inflated ego of the hubristic junior.
Many of my colleagues who were plucked out of M&A into the buyside during the boom are now experiencing the “higher job volatility” they were warned about in their interviews.
Meanwhile, the “stratospheric compensation” they were told to expect hasn’t materialised.
I sense they feel a lot less invincible. Suddenly, it’s important to be nice. Networking is valuable.
The tables have turned, so suck it up, and be prepared to listen to how great I am. Just don’t call me on my St Bart’s number.