Friday, February 1, 2008
For the young professional in Manhattan, there is only one option on New Year’s Eve: spending $200 to drink all night at a single bar or club. For some, the price is daunting and hard to swallow; for Bankers, it feels cheap, homeless and takes the fun out of the experience, like eating during Restaurant Week. In any case, whether it costs more or less than our average night out, on New Years, we all do it.
For me, the $200 was a drop in the bucket. I might have paid it twice for all I know. It was a number you shrug at; and to put it in my friend Hugh’s terms: “only 2/3rds of a bottle.” That’s how Hugh measures things—in bottles. For him, the practice renders any sum trivial and makes spending casual and breezy, like it should be. A Lord Willy’s shirt—1 bottle; A black market Wii some IT guy is trying to sell on the corporate bulletin board—2 bottles. The habit is contagious, and just last week, when I heard the Back Office had put together some micro car called the Tata Nano, all I could think was: Holy shit. This thing is only like 8 bottles. And then, I do that on a Tuesday.
But there was more to this winter season than just a ticket to ‘Netti’s and a case or two worth of clothes from Bergdorf; there was a Bonus. Now out of Banking and in PE, it was still my first year Bonusing in the winter. And while it’s always nice to have someone give you few hundred k, I couldn’t help but remember last winter when I was an Analyst, looking in on the bonus hype.
There was a particular day in the middle of December that stuck out in my mind. At that point, the anticipation for numbers was insane. Associates and VPs were literally bouncing around the office, giddy, wetting themselves at the mention of the words “bonus,” “number,” or “figure,” the last of which proved particularly interesting when discussing charts.
But just as all this momentum was finally reaching a climax, it had to be bottled. Everyone was forced to set aside his excitement and eagerness to act restrained and calm, because on the day in question, not only were our office’s senior Bankers finding out their bonuses, all the firm’s senior bankers from across the country were in the office, receiving their own numbers.
As Analysts who got our bonuses in the summer, we were seemingly detached from the atmosphere; but we were actually quite involved. Thinking back on it, we had anticipated the day almost as strongly as if we were finding out our own tiering, because as the VPs and MDs would make their way out of the head of our group’s office, we’d get a glimpse of them when, for a moment, they were emotionally exposed.
Each group had an entire market built around the process, where guys wagered either before hand or the day-of who they thought would come out with a smirk on their faces and who would retreat back to their own offices wounded and ashamed. “10:1 odds that fat MD smiles” or “$500 bucks says that Asian VP from SF comes out crying like a little bitch!” And then more complicated financial instruments were built on top.
That all felt a bit too
BS&T for me, but I, personally, was strongly invested in this day because visibility-wise I had, hands down, the sickest seat on the floor. Barely craning my neck around the cubes, I could monitor the expressions of everyone walking in and out of the office, and stretching a bit further, I could see the head of our group’s face as he greeted those who were entering.
Needless to say, every single Analyst wanted my seat. There’s a sweet anticipation to watching a grown man man whose life’s work is to fuck your kind over consistently with all-nighters get judged himself. You want him to do well because then it makes your team more badass, but at the same time, it’d be nice to see him wince. It’s like Jenny Humphrey hoping to see Blair Waldorf stumble, if Jenny weren’t from Brooklyn and Blair behaved exactly the same.
VPs conducted themselves drastically different from MDs in this scenario. While MDs were polished and generally had a decent sense of where they stood based on their client relationships, VPs were always just kind of out there, trying to latch on to anything they could and hoping it worked out come bonus time. As such, they reacted like goons, going in clueless and coming out with expressions that broadcast their numbers to the most significant digit. They’d have shit-eating grins and give the air a jab to the midsection or loudly whisper a curse, and we’d be reminded why, in general, VPs are really fucking lame.
Reading an MD, on the other hand, was a more sophisticated art. There could still be emotion caused by unexpected numbers, but hurt or happiness was obscured by stolid looks, showing up only in subtle, nuanced changes to their expressions.
I was a master of parsing their faces, and because of my prime positioning, I made it a point to disseminate the information I gathered out to my boys in real-time. We’d call out guys individually when one of their VPs got burned. And often, when we didn’t know someone from a different office’s name, we’d just refer to them by something geographic, like a high school or sports team from their area.
At one point, an unknown MD from the Chicago office made his way into the office to a low, rumbling “regional” chant. “RE-GION-AL…RE-GION-AL…” we repeated, in time. And when that MD exited, chin held just a touch too low, I instantly fired off the email:
“Looks like someone just reminded New Trier he’s a public school!”
And then, like a slow clap, “bushleague” coughs started to mount.
The real hitter MDs would stroll out of the office, and at the surface, they looked as calm and expressionless as when they had gone in. But as they walked by on their way out, it felt as if they smiled and winked, blanketing the room with a confident and firm: “Fuck yeah. I’m a badass. Someone go warm up the G4.” And then sometimes they would actually wink and point, motioning for someone to go warm up the G4.
They were old men, but it was the kind of masked glee that you see on a kid who’s hiding a crime, or a fat Credit Suisse chick who’s just found out there’s a fake Pinkberry opening on 23rd and Madison.
I remember that day, I saw an MD from another group with this exact type of excitement on his face. I couldn’t exactly place him, but I knew he was from the New York office and that he was fighter, a comeback kid of sorts. He had struggled initially, but with his fans behind him, he made up for it in the later months. At the time, I made emailed out some comment about Chapin’s squash team pulling out a city championship, but if it were this year, I probably would have, more appropriately, sent: “GIANTS MAKE THE SUPERBOWL!”
All that said, life is infinitely better on the Buy Side. Bonuses still come in the winter, but they are couple of orders of magnitude greater. I’ve even got my own hitter (shared) office. But as I think back on that spot on our floor, it really was The Money Seat—not even Hugh could figure out how many bottles it would be worth.