Retirement

December 20, 2012

or as others call it, “business school”, is a bit crazy. I thought the people who kept saying it was “so busy” and that they had “no time” were just exaggerating…or that they were just consultants beforehand (jk). But in all honesty, between classes, speakers, club events, job ‘hunting’, and really, socializing, there’s not much time for anything else. My friends outside of school wonder if I’m alive; my parents wonder if i study at all; and, I wonder if life exists outside of the business school bubble.

Should have some time during the break to get in a few posts re: school and life. What is actually amazing to me is that I started this blog about 4 years ago when Obama was first elected president. The world doesn’t feel that much better or different, really. But, I think I’ve changed in more ways than one.

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Networking Missteps

July 9, 2012

I seriously think I belong in another era. Preferably one in which people are educated in etiquette, and a place where there’s a sense of decorum in everyday dealings. More on this below.

After a month-long hiatus, which included stops in london, stockholm, and the middle east, I have returned to the glorious U.S. of A, in time for a wet, hot American summer. You may wonder how this financiere managed to swing a few weeks of vacation in the middle of the year. It’s simple really: I retired. This is temporary of course. I have decided, amidst much contemplation, to take a two year sabbatical in which I shall discover true career passions, make “lifelong” friends, learn, and travel. Yes, friends – yours truly is going to business school. that’s another story.

On networking:

1) If you’re an undergrad these days, and you’re contacting alums (or any contacts, really) through a career network or something, try to remember that they’re doing you a favor by talking to you. This means that YOU should make damn sure to a) not be late, b) be overly communicative should something come up, and c) recognize that you’re taking up their time. In more than one instance, I have agreed to speak to some naive, socially inept summer interns from my alma mater, only to find that they’ve either forgotten about the call or had something come up. In addition to that, it’s usually followed by radio silence until they “realize” the error of their ways. Is that the impression you want to leave with someone who you’ve never met or spoken to?

2) I harp on this point a lot, but remember, finance is a small, small world. Case in point: I had been dating an immature 28 year-old (do you guys ever grow up?) in the spring, just as he was trying to lateral from one private equity shop to another. We reached that strange part in the relationship dance (of which, I am convinced, is completely an American boy thing) where we were trying to decide where we were going. While yours truly is averse to all that boyfriend, touchy-feely nonsense, a girl does enjoy exclusivity where matters of the heart are concerned, whether it’s for a week or for a year. In any case, the boy in this story decided that job hunting was more important at the moment. What he failed to tell me was that he had applied to my firm to take my job and had noted that he knew me! Add that to the fact that our managing partner had tasked me with finding my replacement, and I had the perfect recipe for disaster. You could imagine the awkward conversation I had with the head of our HR.

HR: “So, this guy says he knows you.”

FF: “oh. I didn’t know he was applying here..”

HR: “Oh..what’s he like?”

FF: “He’s a solid guy. Smart. But, we are dating..sort of, not really. I”m not sure what’s going on there, actually.”

HR: (sympathetic woman) “I see.” – resume in trash -.

On telling a friend about this conversation, he made sure that the guy’s resume went straight to the recycle bin at his firm as well. The point is, be smart and don’t burn bridges.  (Don’t worry – all’s well that ends well.  I didn’t end up completely ruining his life – the guy ended up getting a job in Chicago and moving there in the fall).

Project “Sell the Dream” was off to a decent start. No bake-off/beauty contest was needed as the CEO of the company was a close, personal friend of one of the senior bankers. Couple that with the fact that our bank’s proprietary investment arm had taken a stake in the company and we were in business as shoe-ins for sell-side advisory work. (NB: bake-off/beauty contest in bankerspeak is the process in which a seller/buyer gets proposals from competing investment banks for business. It’s often no more than ‘bullshit bullshit bullshit’ in which bankers give preliminary valuations, subject to change and market conditions of coursed, based on some hardcoded numbers provided by seller/buyer. Basically, the bankers picked are often the ones with the prettiest powerpoint and most attractive team…just kidding. sometimes).

As my direct group was more interested in providing the sell-side financing, we were working with our M&A counterparts quite closely to make sure everyone was on the same page on the numbers. My team had been assembled: Douchebag Associate was taking point on this, with Wasp MD doing some overseeing. The M&A team had their one senior banker, one VP who did nothing, an associate who did everything, and another first year analyst who became a good friend. At this point, Mr. Burrito had dropped a bomb on us, telling everyone that he was moving back to the west coast for that coveted job in private equity. At about the same time, we learned that Outcast was also leaving, for a hedgefund, the Mormon was leaving to get married and move back west, and finally, that our group was receiving summer interns. Between all the personnel changes, I was the only analyst left from my team, and the lone analyst tasked with the aforemetioned project with no help. Douchebag Associate was trying to climb the corporate ladder, and given his background in law, he was sent to London and Nigeria with a few senior bankers to take on some high-level meetings. He would of course have his blackberry and laptop, and would “review” my work on the road.

M&A bankers, above all, try to turn lead into gold. They attempt to “hit” the market just at the right time, finding some buyer who is so desperate to do a deal in which they grotesquely overpay, or they didn’t do enough diligence to really understand the risks. It’s very much a “buyer beware” mentality (but that’s why as buyer, you hire an investment bank to advise you..right?). Everyone needs to wear their big boy/girl pants and do their own diligence. M&A bankers are basically putting lipstick on a pig. The reason why M&A bankers are paid so well is that they are excellent at what they do. Each banker has his/her own style, but ultimately, his/her ability to get a potential buyer to drink the kool-aid is what gets them paid. In my few years of finance, I’ve seen many different approaches – kiss ass / bendover backwards for the client, being an asshole and blunt and telling it like it is, sterile but good work and smart, slimey but providing good intel on competition, etc. They attempt to create real rapports with their clients to instill trust. At the end of it though, there’s very limited loyalty as there are always bigger fish to fry. I learned that first hand as a private equity client.

Project Sell-the-Dream was no different. Without real tangible assets, the company was looking to sell a pipeline of projects that theoretically could turn into something real, assuming the buyer wanted to put some capital to work (i.e. spend money). Even as a naive, 1st year banking analyst, I knew that the company had nothing. I seriously began to hate my life when we started to draft the Confidential Information Memorandum, or CIM for short. This is basically a research report that gives an overview of the company, investment highlights, market/industry facts, and instructions on bidding.  For the first time in my short career, I was working in M&A, and I hated it. Countless hours of status update meetings with the management team (at least the client cookies are good), changing “moreover” to “in addition to” in text, adjusting the colors on graphs, creating graphs, formatting, turning comments from senior bankers, etc. – all of these things sucked the life out of me. The CFO of the company, along with his trusty sidekick (aka their business development associate), felt that adding value to the process was moving around a bunch of periods and commas, and continuously mentioning the “secret sauce ” that their company possessed. In my opinion, there was no sauce, and it certainly wasn’t a secret. The only things keeping me somewhat sane were that I had my counterpart analyst in M&A, and I had the illusion that the high visibility nature of what I was doing was going to get me a top bucket bonus come late June.  On the former, misery loves company. On the latter, Douchebag Associate had told me that given our firm’s personal investment with this company, all of the big executive committee guys would know the team by process’ end. of course, he failed to mention that the glory would only come if we were successful. Oops.

Did I mention that it was the summer of 2008?

It seems like my last post has resonated with a lot of you so I figured that I’d do a quick follow-up. I don’t pretend to be someone who is a master of networking — there are many, many others out there who are better at it than me. However, I feel like there are definitely a few loose rules that one can abide by to become an effective “networker”.

1) Lose the concept of “networking”. Seriously. It’s crass, sketchy and is a totally antiquated approach to things. In it’s most basic form, “networking” is creating a relationship. When you meet someone at a party (preferably one where there’s much champagne abound), and you talk to him/her, do you leave thinking “oh, this person is great for my network. I’m going to ask him/her for a favor.”? Probably not. You might think, ‘Hey, this person is pretty cool. They seem fun.” or “His/her job sounds interesting. I have no idea what they do, but it’d be cool to learn more.” That interest in another person, that is what networking is about. Sidenote: if your first reaction is to ask for a favor from someone you do not know, you should take a few steps back and re-evaluate yourself.

2) No one owes you anything. Seriously. Everyone nowadays (myself included) has so much entitlement to everything that they tend to expect other people to do favors for them just because. Be gracious about getting help, and don’t forget it. When I landed a job in private equity, it was a combination of relationships, luck, and timing, with the emphasis on the relationship. Although I would later come to find that the guy who got me my job wasn’t the most respected person at the firm, I was always quick to defend him.

3) Maintain relationships – Even if it’s just saying “hello” or giving a quick update about what you’re up to, it’s enough. Or something like “hey, i saw this ABC article and thought of you! how’s it going”. That way, when you actually do need a favor, the person doesn’t see right through you. There is nothing worse than knowing from the initial e-mail that you’re being used. Case in point: I recently received an e-mail form an old intern from my banking days inquiring about an opening at my private equity fund. He masked his true intention with the general “hey, long time. let’s catch up!” Sure, guy. You want to catch up after a year of not talking? What could you possibly want? He was a smart, okay guy, but his lack of sincerity really got to me. He didn’t even make it past the initial resume screen.

4) The finance world is a small place, and getting smaller. You can’t afford to be shitty to people, especially as a 20-something, because it will inevitably come back to bite you in the ass.

It absolutely blows my mind how entitled people feel today. Yes, I said people (not just kids). I blame it on the internet. It it way easier to shoot off some quick notes through e-mail, facebook, linkedin, etc. than to actually grow a relationship organically. As such, people feel like they can ask you for virtually anything – career help, advice, dates (i’m looking at you, facebook pokes), without actually knowing you.

In the past few weeks, I’ve received numerous requests from acquaintances (you know..those people who you’re “friends” with, but really only speak to maybe once a year) regarding job hunting. Yes, I have a sexy job in private equity that everyone covets. Yes, I am leaving my job soon for more worldly pursuits and a higher education. And yes, we sure do need to fill my role. Cue in descending vultures. I’ve had more than a handful of these acquaintances ask me, point blank, if my firm was hiring full-time / interns and whether they could “catch up”. Oh, and to top it off, they love to phrase e-mails, “feel free to call me,” like they’re doing me a favor. It takes a lot for me to not respond with something like “sure we’re hiring, it just ain’t you, asshole.” Newsflash: it doesn’t work that way. You do not get to request help and make it sound like I’m doing you a favor. Furthermore, I’ll be sure to put a word in that we shouldn’t hire you.

Seriously, what about life these days makes everyone retarded when it comes to creating and maintaining relationships? I’ll be the first to say that I’ve gotten many a job / internship through networking. The difference is, I don’t suck at it.

 

The Bloodbath

January 25, 2012

Coming back from a mini-reunion with my classmates at the Ivy was rejuvenating. Everything felt comfortable, like we hadn’t all been working in soul sucking jobs (finance, consulting, corp dev) for half a year already. It was a perfect weekend spent in an alcohol-induced hazed.

When I came back on that Monday, I noticed a few more empty chairs than normal. Mr. Burrito grabbed me before I could settle in. “Coffee. Let’s go.” As any banking analyst will tell you, Starbucks (Starfucks, Fourbucks) is the central depository for all things gossip-related. It’s where analysts go to bitch about their superiors, associates/VPs go to bitch about their analysts, and MDs go to discuss their compensation. The trip is quick enough that it doesn’t raise any eyebrows, it’s usually outside of the building, and you can walk, talk and mainline caffeine all at the same time.

“Evil Incarnate got the axe.” Mr. Burrito breathed. He was a little too happy; I  didn’t blame him.

“What?!” I was genuinely surprised. She was terrible but it appeared to an inexperienced outsider that she was pretty decent at managing the politics of the banking world. How wrong I was.

“Yep. And that’s not all. She spent the WHOLE DAY on the floor, saying her good-byes. Who does that?” It was odd indeed. Generally, when employees at investment banks are let go, they are usually escorted from the building quickly so as 1) not to cause a ruckus, and 2) so they don’t steal anything. “Plus, you should have seen the look she gave Apathetic Associate when she left. He went to say good-bye, and she literally avoided eye contact, turned on her heels, and walked away.” Nice to know that having lunch with someone every day for two years gets you that kind of treatment. “That’s not all…” he waited for my reaction. “Smelly homeless kid got relocated to another group. No more air fresheners!” How the tables had turned. I had known for some time that the Evil Incarnate and SHK had been in cahoots, but thankfully, they were on the wrong side of layoffs line.

“Wait. Am I getting fired?” I stopped reveling for a quick second. They couldn’t get to me on Friday because I wasn’t there. Mr. Burrito shook his head and mentioned casually that he thought/knew layoffs for our group were done. We walked back with a little more bounce in our step. As we returned to our desks, we settled in to finally do some work that started to creep up.

Sometime in the afternoon, I felt a tap on my shoulder. “Hi FF. Can I talk to you for a minute?” Wasp MD stood there, with a small smile on his face. He had a cheery disposition and was always friendly. I was too busy searching for any sign that he was hiding a proverbial axe under his bespoke suit. We headed into an empty office on the floor; I was certain that the end was near. “So..you may have heard that SHK was relocated…and I wanted to assure you that you’re going to stay in this group. The head of our division had asked me to choose so I chose you. I just wanted to let you know so you didn’t freak out.” I could have hugged him. He turned out to  be a great mentor and friend through the last few years, but it was nice to see someone “going to bat” for me during my early tenure as a junior analyst.

Over the next few weeks, I watched as my friends bled out slowly. Many analysts were let go with decent severance packages and partial bonuses as we were paid on the year ending 6/30. Either way, my group now consisted of: Wasp MD, Hot VP, Allied Associate (said family friend from earlier), Apathetic Associate, Douchebag Associate, Mr. Burrito, me, and two other analysts (the Mormon, a 1st year, and Outcast, a 2nd year analyst).

At this point, my work had picked up greatly and I was staffed with Douchebag Associate on “Project Sell-the-Dream”, a renewable energy development company with a lot of ideas but little substance. For some reason, we had been pulled into the M&A aspect of the transaction. After that experience, I knew that I never ever wanted to do M&A banking ever again.

Wow.

January 2, 2012

I don’t think I’ve ever neglected anything so much ever. One of my new years resolutions is to re-start this blog (perhaps on a new site) and have it solely be focused on the going-ons of the last four years of my worklife.

Since August, I’ve been cooking up a bunch of things. Namely, this fashionable financier(e) has luckily gotten into business school! Between essay writing, stressing/crying, and the loads of actual work I’ve been doing, many things took a back seat (including the fact that I haven’t been to the gym in about 2 months; don’t worry – I haven’t become a jabba-the-hut mess yet).

Let me re-organize these blog posts, put them into a coherent story with a new host, and hopefully, there’ll be a proper continuous story that everyone can read. I expect to have some time, especially when I leave my current job in private equity, which coincidentally I love. Everyone automatically assumes that when I say I’m going to b-school, it’s because I hate my job/industry/etc. Over the past few months though, I’ve realized that I really do like my firm (despite the ups and downs), I love the people, and I like the sector. But, I feel like I need to receive a more formal education in bi’ness and also broaden my horizon. There are a bunch of things that I’ve always wanted to dabble in and now’s the chance to explore.

It means a great deal to me that some of you still read this – I truly appreciate it.

Here’s to a new and happy 2012!

So apparently, the whole “blogging” thing is a lot tougher than I thought (and even more so when you’re juggling work and b-school apps). I’m working on consolidating some of the stories I’ve told here so i have an idea as to where I left off.

To my 6 active subscribers – i am still here and alive. I’m also still employed (yay me). Interestingly enough, the market is not *that* much better than when I started blogging 2 years back. A bit of a hamster wheel, it feels like..

Hope everyone is doing well!

Road Map

April 15, 2011

I’m building a bridge to get me AND my readers (all five of you active subscribers) to my current state. It may hop a bit but hopefully, it gets the job done.

Overture to the Escape

February 13, 2011

The new head of our group was an extremely nice senior guy who could only be characterized as the Wasp MD. He was the epitome of the banker image many firms built their legacy upon: Ivy-league educated, varsity lacrosse, lived in the City with a summer home in a predominantly waspy enclave in Long Island. Naturally, is wedding announcement ran in the Sunday Styles section in the 1980s while he was a mere associate. His wife and two kids might as well have stepped straight out of a Lilly Pulitzer catalog. He was kind and jovial but seemed somewhat lost as to the best path to incorporate our stranded group into his own. In short, I really liked him.

“Oh, god. It’s really bad today.” Mr. Burrito muttered. Smelly Homeless Kid breezed by our desk on his way to grab lunch. I shook my head. Being cast off from the rest of the group was bad enough. Having to deal with a grown man’s hygienic issues was another ballgame. For some reason, SHK’s body odor was particularly foul the past few days. Sitting along a trader’s desk in close proximity did not help the situation. It was that day in which Mr. Burrito and I vowed to fix the problem. Taking our usual route to lunch, we stopped off at the nearest drugstore. We went in and came out with the only remedy to our problem: a Glade, Clean Linen, plug-in air freshener. At the time, the idea seemed as good as any. Sure, it was childish, but we ran out of options. How do you even begin to have that conversation with a superior? Returning with some pizza, Mr. Burrito and I set to work on our covert operation. SHK’s desk was just messy enough with various folders and large binders to accommodate the plan. Shifting away a few items, we looked around and quickly plugged in our saving grace. Quickly moving a pencil holder, a stapler and one of those wiry-things that held multiple folders in front of it, we settled back into our Herman Miller chairs and quietly ate our lunch. Evil Incarnate’s feminine laugh rang out down the hall as she returned with Apathetic Associate and SHK in tow from lunch. I focused my eyes on the screen in front of me and tried hard not to laugh as SHK sat down. No reaction in any way: either his nose was not functional or the scent of his own nastiness settled as a constant cloud over his being.

Finally, the e-mail I was waiting for had popped up. The SVP who had jumped ship responded to my inquiry. I picked up my cell phone and wandered down the rows to the far side of the massive trading floor, ducking into a corner conference room, which was tucked out of sight.

“Hey, SVP. It’s Fashion Financier. Is now a good time?” He picked up after the first ring. After exchanging pleasantries, I got down to the point. “So, listen. I wanted to get your advice. Do you think it’s a good idea to look for other opportunities?” I asked in one full breath, somewhat nervous. Just because he moved to another group and another building didn’t mean he didn’t have ties to some of the others in my group.

“Absolutely. Look, the way I see it…this place is heading towards major trouble. If you have another opportunity lined up, you should take it. Seriously. Get the fuck out.” SVP advised, almost quietly. Well, that was that. I thanked him for his help and left the empty conference room with a ninja-type of stealth. You know that scene in Titanic, where old Rose does the voice-over and says “That’s the last time Titanic ever saw daylight again.” This felt like that exact moment. I would never talk to SVP again after that conversation. Returning to my desk, I sent out an e-mail from my alumni account to Confidante regarding introductions to head hunters and anyone else she found to be useful She responded automatically, sensing my urgency. A few months earlier when we spoke, she was insistent that our firm would never lay off analysts. Having seen a few of her own get picked off in the process, she was ready and willing to help me with my new job hunt. As people began to leave for the weekend, I simply nodded good-bye as I alt-tabbed back and forth between a ‘model’ that I was ‘learning’ and my draft cover letters to headhunters. Given the slow nature of the current deal environment, my group head had allowed me to take off the following Monday as I was headed back to the Ivy for one of those big Spring weekends.

The news that awaited me on Tuesday was earth shattering to say the least.