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Ask Muffie: 04.26.06

Muffie Benson-Perella (muffie AT is an Associate in the Investment Banking Division of a "Bulge Bracket" bank. She holds a B.A. in French and Art from Vassar College and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. Her regular column "Heard in the Suite" is a probing (and, ahem, fictional) weekly look into the secret lives and behind the velvet curtains of the investment banking world.
Dear Muffie:
When I was in London two weeks ago a krispy-kreme donut cost approximately $2 and a coffee (tall) and cake at starbuck's is $9.50.
With $25 for dinner, how can I maintain a balanced diet?
Banking on Baking

Dear Banking:
Clearly you don't work for a sufficiently prestigious investment banking firm. Frankly, I'm somewhat surprised they have a London office.
As I have had to point out for others recently, high-end investment banking isn't meant for everyone. It is the most challenging work there is. Not everyone is up to it. I think you might have issues in this department. Work hard. Play hard.
What may seem like luxurious perks to bulge-bracket employees should be seen as small creature comforts in the face of the shocking workload we bear in the business. Every little thing that can be done to make us comfortable, no matter if its the right kind of vodka in our martini (potato, not grain- grain just isn't smooth enough) or a minimum of 75% cocoa content in our pillow mint at the hotel, keeps us efficient and focused.
While a facial and a full-body massage in the morning after a long overseas trip might be seen by some as an indulgence, for us it is just the best way to start the day fresh and ready to impress our clients. Leaving the hotel in the morning without looking and feeling your best just isn't a good use of time and resources. You run the risk of embarrassing your colleagues, looking less than your best at the client and making a mockery of yourself.
You have much larger problems. I would stop worrying about budgeting your finances. First of all, get yourself into a serious bank. Second, don't neglect appearance. Men should have regular urban defense facials too. Believe me, we notice when you don't. Call home for a wire if you are cash-challenged after a weekend in Paris or you left your purse at the club in Ibiza the weekend before the client meeting. It has happened once or twice to all of us. Mumsie and Dads will understand, I promise. Remember, Dads was a young Investment Banker once too.
You deserve to be at your best. Your clients and the bank, who, don't forget, you are representing through your appearance, are depending on you.

Dear Muffie,
Since you have a window into the investment banking world, I was awfully curious for your take on Harvard sophomore Kaavya Visnawathan and the fact that she's plagiarized from Megan McCafferty -- since Visnawathan's told interviewers she "hopes to get a job as an investment banker on Wall Street," will this incident hurt or help her career? Will investment bankers admire or scorn her copying tactics?
Perplexed in Publishing

Excuse me, but in this country we are innocent until proven guilty. Well, I'm in the United Kingdom right now, but I am pretty sure it is the same thing basically here. I understand that coping with the fact that a Harvard student commanded one of the most substantial book advances ever is a difficult thing for people on the periphery. Be this as it may, it's no excuse at all to forget that the United States was built on some fundamental freedoms.
Taking a full 5 class load anywhere is difficult. Doing so at Harvard is maddening. When I took a 5 class load I had to stop going out on Wednesdays entirely which, of course, ruins the entire weekend. You are totally off synch because Friday becomes the recovery for Thursday evening and sometimes the best stuff is going on Friday night. Anyhow, the point is that great works are built on the elbows of giants.
And who is this McCafferty person anyhow? Does anyone know where she went to school?
Let's just look at one of the passages in question:
McCafferty: "Sabrina was the brainy Angel. Yet another example of how every girl had to be one or the other: Pretty or smart. Guess which one I got. You'll see where it's gotten me."
Viswanathan: "Moneypenney was the brainy female character. Yet another example of how every girl had to be one or the other: smart or pretty. I had long resigned myself to category one, and as long as it got me to Harvard, I was happy. Except, it hadn't gotten me to Harvard."
As if these are the same at all. Clearly the McCafferty character is nothing like Viswanathan's heroine. She doesn't even PLAN to go to Harvard. Talk about a lack of drive. Please.
As for Viswanathan, it's hard enough being a French girl in a foreign country, we don't need to convict her in the court of public opinion on top of everything else.
Forward all your critical finance and personal (but not personal finance, that's for the PCS group) questions to : muffie AT