Remember where you were the week-end after the collapse of Lehman Brothers?
I was watching fireworks with a Russian Oligarch off the bay of Monte Carlo. He was shooting his own 'private' fireworks from his supersized yacht. In September 2008, shortly after Lehman Brothers went bankrupt Goldman Sachs was hosting a group of bankers and I in a 5* hotel run by la Société des Bains de Mer.
I was an analyst in investment banking at the time and this was our yearly offsite, all paid for with company money (flights, luxurious accommodation,..) . Needless to say this was the very last time GS paid for such an offsite. There would be others following September 2008 but all of those ones would be sponsored by the partners and sometimes even the managing directors (MDs) would be asked to chip in too.
This was the end of the “Bull Market” as we would later call it. The “Bull Market” was a time when everybody was making tons of money. Goldman MDs were commuting in Porsches - you could see them come into the building every morning. Travelling vice presidents (VPs) would stop by Hermes at the Airport and buy themselves a few ties without thinking twice about it. Sometimes they'd get a new Rolex. Associates were indulging in helicopter skiing. Some of my fellow analysts would spend a couple of thousand pounds over the week-end booking VIP tables in trendy nightclubs. You would be invited to thre or four Christmas parties a year (division, department, team and sometimes even other teams would invite you to their Christmas party) too. Obviously there were open bars (forget Prosecco, it was the best Champagne), which were often open in the most extravagant venues.
Christmas wasn't the only time you would be invited to all-inclusive parties. There were also the leaving drinks of senior colleagues jumping ship, who would make a point of showing-off one last time. For a senior banker I was working for, that meant buying magnum after magnum of Dom Perignon in an exclusive members only nightclub in Mayfair.
And then there were all the recruiting events organised for the interns during the summer. I remember someone from HR telling one of the waitresses to make sure alcohol was flowing. Even for Goldman the competition was fierce and they had to make a good impression. Personally, my all time favourite event was probably the drinks organised on a Manhattan roof top during the analyst training.
Christmas parties, like networking drinks are making a very reasonable come back in banking. However, cheap pizzas and burgers have replaced petit fours. And most of the time they're one drink only. I can no longer rely upon the head of our division to approve an all expenses paid for offsite in Monte Carlo for everybody from analysts to MDs.
That was the world before Lehman’s collapse. Everything went quickly South thereafter. I remember my MD telling me whilst smoking a cigar on the terrace overlooking the fireworks, “Let’s face it, if you can get a job at BNP Paribas right now you should take it”. He was let go shortly after. I followed his advice and a few weeks later I was interviewing at BNP, but it was already too late...
Amit Itelmon is a pseudonym
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