The extreme hours and often menial work that characterize the lives of many junior investment bankers were on display last night in an exchange between a first-year analyst and a more senior associate at a middle market investment bank. It all began with a note at 6:04 PM. Although the original back-and-forth was strictly between two colleagues, the emails were forwarded outside the firm by a later recipient. As these things are wont to do, the mêlée very quickly spread through investment banking circles.
The spat began after Roger asked Billy (we’re changing the names because we have been unable to reach the people involved) to put together a working group list for him within an hour. Working group lists are used by investment bankers and law firms to collect and disseminate the contact information of professionals working on a transaction. Putting the lists together is not difficult but it is notoriously boring work. Although Roger’s request is rather straight-forward, Billy objected to the request and told Roger he thought it sounded “testy.”
“There is really no reason to get testy, Roger,” Billy said. “I was here all night, you know that, and I am curious as to why you are passing this off to me. I am aware that it takes 5 minutes to do, but you should know there is a difference between ‘pushing back’ and wondering why (for the 2nd time this week) you are giving me in particular a WGL. I thought that’s what staffing is for.”
[The rest of the exchange, after the jump]
It seems Roger didn’t appreciate being spoken to like this by a subordinate. In the hierarchical culture of investment banks, junior staffers are not expected to accuse superiors of being testy, complain about the amount of hour they work or mention that they are being improperly staffed on projects.
“There is ABSOLUTELY a reason for me to be upset and let me be clear that you grossly misunderstand how things work,” Roger replied. “In banking all nighters are part of the job, not an excuse for an attitude. I spent most of my weekend in the office and have been at work past 3am for 3 days in a row. I’m mature enough to understand that my superiors have their own problems and me not getting too much sleep is not something I should be advertising/whining about. Learn this.”
The objection to being staffed on the project drew a particularly strong reaction.
“As far as staffing is concerned, do NOT tell me how the system works,” Roger wrote. “If anyone in this firm has a short assignment which they need help on and assistants are gone, they can and will ask you. Unless you want a crap reputation, your attitude to work at this point in your career should be thanks, give me more. Nothing else. Thanks for the wgl.”
In the final email, Billy initially refuses to back down. To the contrary, he seems to be the type who believes that every moment is an opportunity to learn something. And that this moment is a particularly good one to educate Roger on the polite way to interact with people.
“I am willing to take the high road here and not bicker about this any more. However, under NO circumstances will you to speak to me like that, EVER again,” Billy wrote. “Outranking me is one thing, but condescending is completely unnecessary and insulting is absolutely unacceptable. I sincerely hope you take that to heart immediately.”
By the end of the message, however, Billy begins to sound quasi (i.e. not) apologetic. “I apologize for the misunderstanding, and I have said my peace,” he writes.
A short time later the exchange began to circulate to outsiders. It spread rapidly to investment bankers from coast to coast.
The little brouhaha seems to be indicative of the pressures of working inside an investment bank—long hours combined with work that is sometimes “mind numbingly boring” and sometimes involves hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars, if you're a first-year, holding your ankles for extended periods of time—can ignite short tempers. One investment banker familiar with the email described his work schedule as a junior analyst as “nearly Hobbesian.”
“It was nasty, brutish and very, very long,” he explained.
Which sounds a bit like the trail of emails exchanged last night between the two bankers we are calling Billy and Roger.
Calls placed to the involved parties this afternoon were not returned.