Morning Coffee: Fund manager who partied with his juniors concedes this was a bad idea. How to fall in love with a hedge fund manager

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“While I am not a person who attaches much importance to hierarchy, I now believe that it is perhaps better as a senior employee that I always maintain a professional distance with more junior employees and do not drink and socialize with them..."

This is the most recent insight into the business of fund management from Frederic Michel-Verdier of IFM Investors. Given that he has already been disciplined by his employer and forbidden to drink at company events, plus that he made these comments at an employment tribunal brought by one of his juniors rather than at Davos, it’s hard not to agree that he has a point.

In fact, there might be enough material for a TED talk on the subject, or a LinkedIn article discussing the lessons that Mr. Michel-Verdier has learned from his trip to a Madrid nightclub in March last year.  For example, if you’ve ignored the first piece of advice and started socializing with junior female employees, it’s really a bad idea to say things like, “You are young.  I can teach you a lot about sex”.  And if you’ve made the mistake of ignoring that piece of advice, it's bad to wait until the party has broken up and then text her your hotel room number followed by “come )))”.

The former is what 50 Michel-Verdier is alleged to have said to 27 year-old Nathalie Abildgaard. The latter is what he actually did. Michel-Verdier does actually accept that texting his room number was,  “irresponsible and naive,” but thinks his poor confused junior got it all wrong. He told the court that it was, "inconceivable that Nathalie genuinely misinterpreted my message either then or now" as an invitation to visit his room. Right then.

The the real problem here - and again Michel-Verdier appreciates this with hindsight, is that he “allowed myself as a senior employee at IFM to be put in the position where my actions could be easily twisted and misrepresented.”

As Michel-Verdier and Abildgaard's employer, IFM didn't seem to think he'd done all that much wrong. The HR function at IFM reviewed the messages Michel-Verdier sent at the time and decided upon some light disciplinary action and a drink ban.  Perhaps they thought that someone who was employed to agree major infrastructure deals ought to be able to find a better way to sort out the logistics than by sending late night emojis?

In any case, unless there are considerable other things going on as yet unreported, none of this is really relevant except as material for future training courses. The question of whether Mr Michel-Verdier really wanted Ms Abildgaard to come to his room is not really what’s being litigated at the Employment Tribunal.  What the tribunal will have to decide is firstly, whether what happened in Madrid was just an unusually crass and inappropriate bit of banter or whether it crossed the legal threshold of constructive dismissal.  And secondly, given that she had been intending to leave anyway, whether Ms Abildgaard ought to be compensated (and if so how much) for the pro-rata bonus entitlement she gave up for the period between her planned leaving date and the immediate aftermath of the room number fiasco.  We’ll find out the answer to that soon enough.

Separately, while the Michel-Verdier approach may not make it into a guide on how to find love as a fund manager, the account of how the hedge fund world’s Bill Ackman met his new wife is a somewhat more inspiring tale. Introduced by Ackman’s old Harvard mentor and by a close female friend, both of whom had independently concluded that Neri Oxman was the perfect companion for bachelor Bill, the couple started dating in September 2017, six months after Ackman’s Pershing Square Capital had exited its most disastrous investment ever in Valeant.

Ms Oxman is an MIT professor, architect, computer PhD and former air force lieutenant who, even more crucially, has never worked in finance and may not even have an opinion on whether Herbalife was a short. She is also besotted with Bill: “We both appreciate the expansiveness of life, love and living [...] that transcends the often-prescribed categories of family and work and unites them into synergy,” said Oxman of her new relationship, adding that, "We both believe in the notion that what we do is not a job or a career, it is a calling." In the photo accompanying this declaration, Ackman has his eyes closed.

Meanwhile ...

The extent to which companies try to stuff their Glassdoor ratings full of favourable reviews is extraordinary.  Even prestigious employers like Bain are at it, apparently. (WSJ)

With Davos in full swing, we have comments from Tidjane Thiam seeing a tough enviroment in Q4 but hope for the near term, and doing so in a black parka almost as elegant as Andrea Orcel’s from last year (Reuters, Bloomberg)

Axel Weber, on the other hand, was keen to talk about the need for banking consolidation in Europe rather than UBS’s own results announced today. Although he regarded it as fairly urgent for Europeans to come together to gain scale, this doesn’t mean UBS is interested in taking part at all, let alone as white knight for Deutsche Bank (Bloomberg)

For his part, Mike Corbat of Citi isn’t doing victory laps. “Don’t overestimate the US banks’ position and don’t underestimate the European banks’ position”, he says (Bloomberg)

We also get stories about the punishingly expensive prices in Davos during the WEF week – CHF38 for a hot dog, for example (CNBC)

German labour unions are beginning to oppose any mergers between the big banks (Reuters)

A new and slightly bizarre lawsuit for Deutsche – rug trader Hafez Sabet claims the bank took too much collateral from his business and is suing for $11bn to compensate for a lost investment opportunity (Handelsblatt)

Justin Gmelich, a Goldman veteran and current COO of FICC trading, is retiring (Reuters)

It’s not just the City of London that has to fear Brexit – Bournemouth has a substantial cluster of back-office finance, and JP Morgan has raised the possibility it might have to leave in the event of no deal (Bournemoth Echo)

Profile of HQ Trust, a multi-family office run out of Bad Homburg and allowing 100 rich families to invest alongside the heirs of Harald Quandt (Bloomberg)

Computer programming or liberal arts? The jobs of tomorrow may require a combination of both (WSJ)

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