There was a time when capital markets were wild, and this is a collection of very true tales across the US, UK and Asia. The greatest strength of this book is the mindset needed to be a winner within a top investment bank. The author John Lefevre is a product of his time. He reveals all, and was shaped by a life experience. Would he be a success in today's era, unlikely, but times were different, and the rules have changed.
It starts at the beginning, in boarding school. Humans test each other, and the hazing culture that you survive and figure out, is repeated in work years later. Rules are a mere guide, mainly for suckers to follow in the author's view. Real investment bankers know where to bend these rules of behavior and seem to do so often, very often. It is a clear pattern and a well worn path to success come bonus time.
Goldmans Sachs is an investment banking firm at the top, and elevator chat gossip, now banned at the firm, moved to Twitter, instead. This is the hugely successful GS Elevator famed account. If a crazy racy story needed to be told from Wall Street somewhere, that was the place to send your story. In this account, you could spill the beans on what really happened on any deal or in any investment bank. Only the names of the guilty were often left out to protect their bonuses.
We learn how grey zones of deal behaviour can creep into the workplace. The author runs the syndicate desk, and is the center of many a deal flow in Europe, then Asia. Back then, mobile phones were not recorded lines, so when a client asks to call you on your cell, it means A) he is about to bend a rule on a deal, or B) tell you about an X-rated story by a colleague that should never be recorded.
What can you say except that so many of the actions involving real people in the markets seem out of reach. It is not just the money, the power, the influence or the self-centered attitude, it is the whole. Men behaving badly, would be another worthwhile title as almost nothing is left sacred. Cocaine, prostitutes, gold diggers and client service in a rigged game are explained in eye-popping detail. If you want to believe that everything in finance is clean and done above board, this is not the book for you.
Given the scandals we are now seeing within LIBOR, FX and flash crash charges, this tell all almost makes you want to "throw everybody in jail" and throw away the key. Sadly, life is never that simple. With various ways of communicating today, people will talk online. It can be on Glass Doors or and any other online way to share the gossip that is just too good not to pass on.
What have I learned in this book that can help my career? Mainly that extreme personality types are attracted to investment banking. I also learned that a core minority are willing to take more action, professional and otherwise, than the majority. Many would never want to do what a tough deal close "really takes". Getting ahead is not about being smart, it is about being aware of all options. Better to close for less money than to not close. All client requests may or may not be fair, but are asked for, and still can work to close a deal. Always be closing, are very familiar words.
The Top 3 Takeaways from this book that really impact any reader are:
1) There is a lot to learn about working in an investment bank. Politics is often equally important to revenue or productivity. There are no shortcuts to success, you must do everything you can all the time.
2) The timing of deals is never on time. The more willing you are to do whatever it takes, the more willing deal makers are, to doing more deals with you in future.
3) There is value everywhere if you learn how to look for it and how to value it properly. Hard work and persistence from constant effort are important, but not valued, unless both are made clear to management. Bonuses always reflect "how" that message is communicated, not if.
I will admit that you do not feel clean after reading this book, and almost feel a mental need to "wash off" afterwards, but that is the point. It is not a nice book about nice people who played fair and did well. Sadly, such a book, would never sell as much. This is very much a long group of unbelievable true stories that keep you in awe. It may also confirm that these guilty parties, will follow the title of this book and ultimately go "Straight to Hell". They will not pass go, and will not get to use their money to change that final destination. Highly amusing and best read with too many bottles of beer or wine of your choice!
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