The latest round of robber barons are engaged in full-throttle PR campaigns to convince the public that "they love what they do." It's one of the most common statements thrown around in the increasingly cushy human-interest pieces we have to digest on these guys. Statements like "I've never worked a day in my life," "I'm so passionate about doing deals," and "It's just a strap-on," flow incessantly from these modern day martyrs. Did anyone read the (it seemed longer than) 10,000 word piece on Zuckerman in the New Yorker? I was convinced Western Civ hinged on this guy's recycled jokes after a while.
Wall Street Journal's Wealth Report probes the billionaire mantra with a bit of skepticism, culminating in the asshatdom of Ken Griffin. From the Wealth Report:
Ken Griffin, the “passionate” hedge fund manager makes a telling remark in the Times article. When he’s asked about raising taxes on the rich, Mr. Griffin says that if his taxes are raised, he would lose some of his incentive and ” I would not be working this hard” So what is really motivating today’s rich? The passion or the money?
We know you can never completely dissociate a job from what it gets you in society, and we're sure there are a lot of people who genuinely like finance. Judging the extent of how "passionate" a financial professional is, however, is a valid question. No one makes as much $$, so no other field is as conspicuously tied to its positive socioeconomic effects as finance.
We used to get into the debate in the bullpen over whether we'd be doing something other than finance if it paid as well, or was treated like banking during the critical end of college crossroads (you remember, that point at which, at least in some colleges, they make it seem like if you don't get a finance job, you've lost at life and should consider prompt alternatives to existing).
Is a "passion for corporate finance" as self-delusional of a notion as the harshest cynic would suggest, or are most finance types actually passionate about what they do? If you could be a teacher and make as much as an investment banker, would you be a teacher? Likewise if a banker made a teacher's salary, would you still be a banker?
Our own theory is that the self-proclaimed passion for finance is (mostly) derivative. How many college seniors are elbowing each other trying to study markets in academia opposed to going to that Goldman informational presentation? The "passion" springs from a competitive desire to "win," judged by society's current scorecard, which is $$$. People are competitive, everyone has a different utility curve, winning has its benefits, and the risk/reward profile works out for some such that a couple years (or 20) of agony are more than worth it.
Here is DealBreaker's effort to engage in some Rawlsian exercise in career choice: what career would you choose under a veil of ignorance as to that career's effects on your status and bank account? Let's hear those Kindergarten pipe dreams, people, and answer the following poll:
Getting Rich By Doing What You Love [Wealth Report]