21 AugMoney. You’ve either got enough of it or you haven’t

Money and banking. The two go together. Banking is a schizophrenic business. There is some truth to the notion that people in banking earn a lot mroe money than people in other professions. There is a also plenty of truth to the observation that if you are in banking, there are plenty who earn more than you do. When is enough, enough?

Last week, we suggested there are three types of money: getting by money, doing nicely money and screw you money. This week’s post is all about the latter. Enjoy.

Having enough money: Expat assignments are quite often a sought after posting. In times gone by the old adage was that with the right package of benefits you could simply bank your salary.  That did not mean that it was always straight forward to find somebody willing to relocate. Tokyo was one of those places that was not top of everybody’s wish list. It has been though a place where Western banks struggle to build their businesses and, together with Frankfurt, has been a place where I have seen several different banks have major issues over the years.

Goldman Sachs, for all the hype, is as mortal as other places and it too has had its Tokyo moments.  In the mid 90’s, one of those came by and the partner in charge of Operations, Larry Linden, decided he needed to get a pair of senior hands on deck by sending one of his managers out there. He picked on a newly minted managing director, Steve Daffron, telling him of his need and his desire to have Steve be his point person in Tokyo. Steve politely declined, citing the fact that one of his kids was in his last two years of high school and this would be simply too disruptive. This was deemed a decent and acceptable reason. Next to be asked, was a long time Goldman operations manager, Mike Certo. Mike was one of my mentors during my Goldman years; many moons past, he had hired the guy who ended up hiring me. Mike had just got back from his second assignment in London. He put this forward as a reason for not wanting to go to Tokyo. This too was deemed a decent and acceptable reason. Next in line was another MD, Ed Watts. Ed too was a mentor to me; a great Operations guy and inspiring manager. He too had just got back to New York from an assignment in London.  Ed did not fancy going away again so soon and Tokyo was not so attractive a proposition as to make him really want to go. So deadpan, he turned to the partner and said “Larry, no. I have just got back from London, I really do not want to go.” By now, there was a tinge of both desperation and insistence to the partner’s request as in: “We really, really would like you to do this,” in a tone that makes it clear that if you don’t accept, chances are the requester will get both mad and even. So to make his own position really clear, Ed added: “And remember Larry, I have enough money!”

Not making enough to make a difference: in banking, there will always be people making more money than you do. How much is enough? At least around at UBS there seems to be some sort of yardstick. Ossie Gruebel, the recently departed CEO, is well known for his dry sense of humour. Actually, given he is German and more or less an honorary Swiss, any sense of humour would be remarkable. The exception of course defining the rule. That said, I am surprised, having seen him in front of an audience that there is not a “Late Night with Ossie” talk show on TV; sort of Jim Cramer meets David Letterman. My favourite of his quips comes from a meeting of some senior folks at UBS that a good friend of mine was at. Discussion and decision making is progressing until one of those present points out that they really ought to ask “So and So’s” opinion, but “So and So” is not there. Ossie retorts very quickly: “Doesn’t matter, he earns less than a million bucks so he has nothing to say on this!” (German: “Er hat ja gar nichts zu sagen, denn er verdient gar keine Million”)

Lessons Learned: It’s good to have enough money to be able to say no, either politely or more colourfully. Sometimes though, even if you think you have enough, it might not be.

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