"Tis the season to be greedy," shouted Mario, the curly-haired Italian managing director, as he charged out of the bathroom and darted toward his seat with a smile that inspired ambivalent emotions. One the one hand, it appeared broad and unquestionably genuine. As if catalysed by a memory of stealing an issue of Playboy from his father's private collection when he was 13 years old and, by that afternoon, becoming the most popular kid in his class. On the other, from certain angles, the expression was unconvincing and thin, like he'd just been told the bonus pool was non-existent.
What's with him?
He couldn't look any more ridiculous if he tried. Wearing his signature dark green trousers, a tailor fitted blue shirt from Gieves & Hawkes and burgundy loafers, one could have easily mistaken him for a gentleman of leisure. That was perfectly acceptable attire on casual Friday. But he had donned a silly Santa Claus hat. Is that meant to lift our spirit?
The time was 5:15pm.
You couldn't tell that Christmas was less than 10 days away. The floor was buzzing, people were shouting into their phones and a sense of constant, unabated urgency enveloped the entire building. As for holiday decorations...forget it: not an ornament in sight.
The pressure to keep working was just as high as the rest of the year. All freedoms were handed over to the bank the moment I signed the employment contract.
At 5:20pm, Mario chose to make a motivational speech: "Stay close to your clients. Let's line up some big fees for January. Let's go. Let's go." He'd put on his coat and was headed out for the night. Still wearing the Santa Claus hat. Bloody idiot.
"Douchebag," was the muted response from a colleague a few seats away. Sniggering followed.
I looked down at my wrist again to double-check the time. Leaving around 5pm was considered doing a half day. Under normal circumstances I would have wished Mario a gruesome and painful death for rubbing this in. Yet I was a man on a mission. That evening I intended to sneak away from my desk at 7pm sharp, three hours earlier than usual. A relative was a member of a successful music band and they were playing in London that evening. I had VIP passes; for me and nine other people.
In my team, leaving at 7pm was tantamount to spitting on your boss' face in front of the board. Therefore, in order to secure an exit, I had to scheme.
Operation Get the Hell Out
Fortunately, the main obstacle in my way was already taken care of: my immediate line manager was on a flight to the Middle East. The possibility of enjoying a mere taste of a social life, therefore, went from highly unlikely to just unlikely.
Minutes before executing my getaway, I made sure everything was in order. I hung one of my jackets on the back of my swivel chair so that, with the exception of a friend or two, people thought I was still in the office. Always have an extra jacket in the office for emergencies. Also, I left a half-full bottle of Evian on my desk with the cap lying a few inches away. Again, I was supposed to be around.
It's time. I put my mobile to my ear, pretended I'd just dialled a colleague in Dubai, got up and pulled a RALBY (Run And Look Busy). I made it to the elevator. Halfway there.
The elevator door opened to reveal an empty, welcoming space. Perfect. I stepped in, keeping my mobile in hand. You never knew who would appear when the doors opened next. Vigilance at all times.
Seconds before the doors opened on the ground floor I moved the phone back up to my ear and resumed an imaginary conversation with a work colleague. I stepped out to meet a sea of faces waiting to rush back up to their desks. Nobody I recognised. Phew.
I left the building and looked over my shoulder a few times to ensure nobody saw me leave.
As soon as I was alone I felt the urge to jump up and punch the air with joy. Scot-free at last.
Before stepping into the tube to catch a train home I decided I'd stop by the supermarket and buy a bottle of Champagne. For a celebratory drink at home, before the concert.
There I was in the aisle that shelved all kinds of sparkling wines. One particular bottle caught my attention. Hmmm. I picked it up and inspected the label. Moderately priced. This'll do. A smile formed on my face. My night had begun. Which words shall I use for the toast after I pop the cork?
The next thing I knew, my heart skipped a beat. The pressure of a hand on my right shoulder sent shivers down my spine. I turned to find Simon, Head of Capital Markets. I was surprised I didn't drop the bottle.
He threw a glance at my hand and his eye lit up like a Christmas tree. "Did we win a big mandate?"
"Simon. Hi." Think of something. Fast. Nothing clever sprang to mind. "I'm afraid not yet. Personal celebration."
"I see," he said with a hint of suspicion.
My eyes fell on the item he held in his hand. I didn't recognise the brand but it had a medicinal look. The only words that jumped out at me were "Haemorrhoid Relief." Simon moved the box behind his back, out of sight. An awkward moment followed.
"Well, carry on then," he said and walked away.
I watched him disappear. Close call. I took a deep breath and made off with the bottle of Champagne in hand.
Just as I was about to turn a corner Simon called my name. Sh*t. I turned around, regretting that I didn't pretend to hear nothing. You could have ran you idiot.
He walked right over to me.
"We need a pitchbook prepared by tomorrow morning. It's for a Dutch client. The Benelux team is short-staffed so I need you to help."
"Call me at 8pm on my mobile and I'll tell you what needs to go into it."
"Can I come in early tomorrow morning?"
He laughed. "You're not going home tonight." And he walked away.
The ibanker is a former bulge bracket investment banker who founded a family office-backed investment firm. He has written a guide, Breaking Into Investment Banking: An Unorthodox Approach, for students who want to break into investment banks, private equity firms, hedge funds and other financial institutions. If you use the offer code 'efinancialcareers' to buy this guide, you can get a 35% discount.