After all the fun of London 2012, we are now in what in journalism is often referred to as “silly season”. The holiday month of August, where real news is in short supply. A light hearted look at some banking stories seems appropriate.
It is often said that there are three types of money: getting by money, doing nicely money and screw you money. Various terms have been used for the latter, the intent though is obvious. Over the years I have encountered a few moments in the banking world that have cause a wry smile, sometimes with the tiniest soupçon of jealousy too. Enjoy.
Clever kid’s time out from work: In my Goldman Sachs days we had some very bright folk trading equity derivatives. One night, I was in London for a team dinner and on the way to the event bumped into Ralph, the leading whiz kid from that team. Ralph was dressed in jeans and a sweater, looking like he had the day off. “Day off Ralph?”, “Sort of, actually many days off, I am taking a break. See you in the pub later and I’ll tell you all about it”. Post my formal dinner, I headed off to the pub, curious to be filled in on the detail. Ralph it seemed, had decided he wanted a break. The Firm did not want him to resign, lest he go to another house. So he was being given a sabbatical, for as long as wanted, on full salary. Salary, not bonus mind. So, I asked him what we was going to do. “Well, I am going to take the Lamborghini down to Italy to get it re-sprayed and I really want to learn to fly my helicopter properly!” Ralph was around 30 at the time; as this was investment banking the Lambo part was not a surprise, neither too was the flying part. But, even I had to do a double take on the “my helicopter” part.
Taking the pilot’s seat: “Have you heard the great story about Winkelman?” I was asked one day in London. The reference was to the partner in charge of fixed income. Mark Winkelman was somewhat of a legend inside of Goldman Sachs; my enduring memory of him was as the person who coined the phrase “factory”, to define how he wanted his resources, both front-office and back-office aligned in a silo so he “owned” it all front-to-back. My Operations colleague had been at an early morning meeting, where Winkelman was taking part. He had though looked a little the worse for wear, appearing to fall asleep. My colleague asked another Ops manager what was wrong with Winkelman. “Oh, he just flew in from New York,” he was told. “Yeah, but I am sure he got some sleep”, “No, you don’t get it, he flew in from New York, himself.” Winkelman had a private pilot’s license and his own plane; the sleek little number that was used by Richard Gere in Pretty Woman.
That will do nicely: These two are good, certainly medal quality, but the gold would go to Bob Rubin, ex Goldman partner, during his time as Secretary of the Treasury during the Clinton Administration. I have heard a couple of variations of this story, all with the same ingredients. It is those ingredients and not where the protagonists were that matters. Rubin was attending a G8 Finance Ministers meeting in Paris, when a rather thorny and technical issue came up that he needed some help with. He turned to one of his aides and said: “Please call Larry (Summers, then his deputy and later himself the secretary), tell him to get over here on the next plane.” The aide ran off to sort out his master’s wishes, only to return a few minutes later. “Mr. Secretary, there is not a commercial flight available that will get Mr. Summers here in time before the summit finishes.” Rubin nonchalantly looked at his watch and retorted: “There’s a direct Concorde flight leaving Dulles (the main airport in Washington DC) in an hour. Make sure he gets on it.” The aide looked a little puzzled and replied, “Hm Mr. Secretary, with respect, government policy does not permit supersonic travel for Under Secretaries (Summer’s rank at the time).” Totally nonplussed Rubin pulled out his personal credit card, proffered it to the flunky and said: “I understand, use this. Make sure he is on the plane:”
Lessons Learned: Hope dies last. You might strike it rich in banking and have your own plane story to tell and be able to say when sneaking in late to a meeting: “Sorry I am late, couldn’t find a parking space for the Gulfstream at Heathrow.” A different league to the days back in high school when you did your A-levels and the rich kid came in late saying his car wouldn’t start when 99% of the kids were still walking or bussing it. For my part, I hope my commuter flight back to Zurich is on time this week.
A personal request: Comments and feedback from regular readers are very welcome. If you find this Blog useful, please subscribe. There is an E-Mail tool and an RSS link on the right hand side of the main Blog page. If you like it enough to share, please share this with a friend or two and ask them to subscribe too. If I am wide of the mark and not offering anything of use, please comment or contact me directly via E-Mail.