Why you will never make it beyond the mid-ranks of an investment bank
It’s promotion time in investment banks. At Goldman Sachs, people are being made partners and MDs. Other banks will soon follow in making promotions of their own.
If you’re making a lot of money for your franchise and have spent several years in a position below the top rungs, you may think promotion is your due. And yet, you may well be disappointed. If you are, my experience suggests that this will be for one of three main reasons.
1. You are not the living embodiment of your employer
As an analyst, I worked for a Partner Managing Director who told us that the shortcut from our junior ranks to his level involved getting the firm’s logo tattooed across our chests.
We all laughed as if he were the greatest wit in the world (he was a PMD). And then realised that he wasn’t necessarily being facetious.
If you want to make partner or managing director, you will have to immerse yourself. If you don’t, then like the North Korean general who was sentenced to death by mortar rocket for being drunk during the Great Leader’s mourning period last year, consider your career dreams obliterated.
2. You are not part of the club
Old-school partnerships at firms like Goldman Sachs were more like exclusive gentlemen’s clubs than professional pay grades. The languid elitism of the old partnerships has disappeared, but the clubbiness hasn’t.
Unless you fit in, you won’t get in.
The issue now is figuring out what fitting in amounts to. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers: promotion is no longer based upon on ethnicity, gender or religion. This has made things much fairer. But is also means the rules are more fluid. You may never know if you’ve done or said something wrong. Or if your children attend the wrong school.
3. You are disliked by someone in power
If you’re a VP, or an ED, watch what you say. Be circumspect at all times – especially if with colleagues whilst under the influence of alcohol. Don’t be too open in your views. Don’t criticize anyone more senior than yourself.
In the company of a very senior banker, a volatility trader friend of mine launched into a tirade about his group’s new risk management strategy: he felt it was preventing him from making any money. After listening carefully to this rant, the senior banker revealed that the strategy was his brainchild. The conversation soured. My friend had been at the firm for almost eight years. Things had been going well until that point. He’s now looking for a new role.
You’ll notice that the “integrity and honesty” mentioned by Greg Smith, Goldman’s whistle blower-in-chief as supposed hallmarks of the firm’s partners are nowhere to be found on my list. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions about that.
Joseph Blogs once worked for Goldman Sachs