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My life as an investment banker
Rohan Siddhu |
December 19, 2005
I was so sure I wanted to be a pilot. Nothing was going to change my mind.
My family disapproved. Totally. My grandfather, a fabulously rich octogenarian, was a chartered accountant. He ran his own firm along with my dad, and wanted the next generation to continue in his footsteps. He frowned incessantly whenever I mentioned my childhood dream.
Then my older brother, whom I idolised (then, not now), became a CA. That did it. I followed suit.
Partly, because I wanted to follow my brother's footsteps. Partly, because I was afraid I would be cut off from the family inheritance.
I also figured I would be more ambitious if I worked hard enough at buying my own private aircraft instead of flying someone else's.
A few months into the job, I was miserable. I realised being a CA was the last thing I wanted to do. That's when I saw Wall Street. A wild film on an ambitious young trader in the eighties in New York.
Boy, I loved that movie. 'Greed is good' is what Michael Douglas inculcated in me. I saw the swank apartment Charlie Sheen lived in with his perfect woman and I thought, that's the life I want.
Forget the family inheritance, I decided. I don't need it.
I got in touch with a family friend and asked him to help me get a job as an investment banker. After a dozen interviews, where I had close encounters with the inflated egos of other investment bankers, I managed to get myself a job.
I think my success at landing the job lay solely in my ability to look most interested as the guys interviewing me spoke blatantly about their lives and the deals they clinched.
My new life had begun.
The good, the bad and the ugly
I soon discovered that I did not land myself a job but a 24/7 personality referred to as the investment banker. I was like a doctor on call.
My day would typically start by waking up early morning to chat with a client in Hong Kong. And I ended the day staying up really late to chat with the one from US.
In between, my life was interspersed with mundane tasks of presentations and photocopying, with miniscule doses of financial engineering and power games.
Let me explain.
Investment bankers are experts at calculating what a business is worth.
To arrive at this figure, they use something known as the Discounted Cash Flow method. For the uninitiated, this is a valuation method used to estimate the attractiveness of an investment opportunity. It is such a sensitive tool that, by just changing a variable or assumption, you would be able to get a completely different figure. You could value a company at Rs 100 crore or Rs 1,000 crore.
It actually was up to me!
This made me feel supremely important, despite the fact that I had to pore over coma-inducing spread sheets.
And, of course, when you discuss mergers and acquisitions, you only meet with the big brass. Getting a handshake from these guys and having them listen to my every word and detailed analysis would set my adrenaline soaring.
Our job also entailed raising capital (money) for companies. This was not much fun. I had to dress up a company and then present it to private equity investors or venture capitalists and even the public, if we were floating Initial Public Offerings.
Basically, we had to sell a company, whether we truly believed in it or not. Often, I found myself pushing deals with clients that I knew would not work. I became a salesman to the core.
Investment bankers also excel in paperwork. Whether it was a prospectus for an IPO or whatever deal, we had to ensure that the figures were accurate and the language legally perfect. We had to scrutinise every word and then make hundreds of photocopies (alright, I am exaggerating, but only slightly).
And, if it was merger or acquisition that we were working on, the paperwork assumed such gigantic proportions that a room had to be hired -- called the data room -- whose sole purpose was to store the photocopies.
There were periods when I managed to catch just four hours of sleep daily.
Whoever said that investment banking is not about money but about the game of acquiring it (a popular saying among investment bankers) was lying through his teeth.
It's all about the money, honey
What I loved about the job was the money.
The salaries and bonuses were obscenely luring. (A fresh MBA, with absolutely no job experience, could earn between Rs 3,00,000-Rs 6,00,000 per annum (the latter if you are from a top-notch business school like the IIMs).)
The salaries gave purpose to my life and the bonuses (which could go up to three to five times the annual salary) made up for the crap I had to put up with. And, yes, believe me, there was lots of crap.
Let me tell you something about the bonuses.
Like I mentioned earlier, it can be breathtakingly inflated figure. To get it, you have to do two things.
The first: Work like a dog to contribute to the profits.
If you are passionate about teamwork, investment banking is certainly not the place for you. It is more of a dog-eat-dog culture. You are on your own. Since you are paid according to the deals you cut, it works out to be a very individualistic environment with everyone jockeying for a large slice of the bonus cake.
The second: Suck up to your boss.
That's right. Be a sycophant, even if he is insufferable.
Smile at him.
Say the right things.
Nod when he makes a good point.
Don't disagree too much when he does not.
Grovel at his feet.
Your bonus is not going to be calculated according to some predetermined formula. It is solely dependent on your boss' whims and fancies.
I'm sorry, but...
After my first year, I looked forward to the bonus with glee. I was the 'hot new kid' on the block, responsible for getting in 80% of all new business in the past year.
One morning, my boss calls me and tells me he is quitting. A new guy would be taking his place. Come bonus time, the 'new guy' calls me in for a chat.
"I believe you have done really well in the past year," he starts.
I liked that beginning.
"Unfortunately, since I have just joined, it would not be fair for me to judge your performance or those of your colleagues." Warning bells began clanging in my head. "So I am afraid, all bonuses are going to be equal this year."
I headed to the nearest pub to drown my sorrows.
The following year, I was totally demotivated (can you blame me?). Subsequently, I did not get in that much of business.
Come bonus time, he pompously tells me that he cannot give me a huge bonus since I did not work as well as was reported earlier.
Hit the pub again.
The travelling sucks. Big time!
A friend once told me the easiest way to spot an investment banker in the lobby of a five-star hotel is to look for those who look sleepless and harried.
If you ever meet an investment banker who says that he/ she loves the travelling, feel free to punch him/ her in the face. Hard!
The first time you travel, it is nice. The second time too. Maybe even the third. The fourth time it is tolerable. After that, it's a drag.
You not only have to constantly travel all around the country, you even have to travel abroad.
If that sounds cool, consider yourself walking around like a zombie at some airport, looking at the ticket to figure out where you are even as your biological clock frantically tries to adjust to crossing three time zones in two days.
Has anyone seen my social life?
The travelling and the ridiculous working hours ensured that my social life was a memory of the past. It dropped in inverse proportion to my salary.
Moreover, there was no one interesting in office to hang around with. In fact, the first thing that hit me when I walked into the office on my very first day was the negligible amount of women. Where were the women? Did they not want to be investment bankers?
The office was full of men: all types, the young, the balding, the paunchy relics.
So, when my trader friend invited me to his sister's birthday bash, I jumped at it.
Finally, I cornered a nice girl. "Hi, My name's Rohan. I'm an investment banker."
"How nice," was her retort.
That's it? How nice?
Obviously, she had no idea who (or what) an investment banker is.
Later, I was later told this was one of the worst pick-up lines in the world. After a fairly disastrous attempt at polite conversation, I was kind of relieved my friend sauntered over to join us.
"I'm a stock trader," was all he had to say to get the glint in her eyes.
"Wow! That's so cool! Your job must be so exciting!"
Hell! Why did I take this job?
Does that mean I quit?
Right now, I am on a sabbatical in Spain.
Will I go back?
I think so (have not figured out what else to do). After all, the paycheck gives me purpose and the bonus makes up for the crap.
And, hey, on my own I can't afford to fly business class, live in executive suites in five-star hotels, holiday abroad every year and eat in the swankiest and most expensive restaurants in town.
That, along with the money, is the prime motivator as to why I am an investment banker.