Bankers should be at Burning Man. Or not
Is Frank Quattrone at Burning Man? Frank should be. His moustache would fit well with the desert hipsters. The legendary tech banker might also find some work there.
As has been widely reported/lamented, the annual counter-cultural festival in the Nevada Desert which starts next Monday has become a main event on the white middle-aged middle-class social calendar. Mark Zuckerburg, Sergey Brin and Larry Page are all repeat-Burners. Ultra-conservative politician Grover Norquist is Burning for the first time this year. There are Burning Man attendees paying $25k for accommodation and employing private concierge services to smooth their stay. There's even a Dogecoin Camp for crypto-currency geeks.
Bankers and hedge fund managers are allegedly in Nevada as well. "One of the 10 principles of Burning Man is radical inclusion. That applies to investment bankers too," spokesman Jim Graham tells us. "We've had investment bankers at the event, one of them is a friend of mine," he adds.
Wall Streeters who attend Burning Man are said to buy their kit for the event at Screaming Mimis on Lafayette Street, just a few blocks away from Goldman Sachs' office. The store offers a special Burning Man range. Last year, bankers were reportedly spending $1.5k on outfits. This year they can get themselves a Vivienne Westwood leopard print faux fur coat for $3k.
A U.S. banker in London told us Burning Man is on his 'bucket list' of things to do, but that he hasn't ticked it off yet. "I've had friends go, but they're mostly ex-bankers who are out of the industry. People are a bit sensitive about being photographed there," he said.
That's maybe a shame. As Felix Salmon pointed out in the Financial Times last week, $100bn of tech deals were executed in the first half of 2014, but many were done without bankers' involvement. In the absence of finance professionals, technology titans are liaising with each other directly. Silicon Valley mergers are now based upon product synergies and personality evaluations. And where better to get the measure of someone's psyche than the Black Rock Desert starting Monday? Last year, deals were reportedly sealed there and one venture capitalist claimed to have found a new job after meeting 'Larry and Sergey' in 'full spandex bodysuits'.
Finance professionals who become Burners might leave the event feeling altered. "Everyone has the potential to become enlightened, it's mostly up to them," says Graham. Not all Wall Streeters who've been to Nevada are inclined to welcome their kin though. Back in 2007, one hedge fund trader who attended regularly said he wouldn't want any of his 'aggressively indulgent' colleagues to come along. “I would not encourage anyone I work with to go," he said. " I see how people are in this business, and I would not trust them to engage the experience as it should be engaged.”