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Morning Coffee: The associate with the worst job in private equity, and Thiam's lost friend

When people are sounding out a new job opportunity, they sometimes look at what happened to their potential next boss’s previous employees.  “Got promoted or moved to a prestigious firm”, that’s good news.  “Decided to take a sideways move”, could be explained but a potential worry.  “Left the industry”, now you’re really asking questions.  But Blackstone’s Steven Schwarzman tells a story against himself in his autobiography which beats them all.  When Blackstone was struggling to get the paperwork executed in October 1987 to close its first fund, “Caroline James, our only associate, who was handling the closing, left soon afterward to become a therapist. She would have a lifetime of case material just from working with me on the closing.”

This anecdote might have been improved over two decades’ worth of dinner parties; according to LinkedIn, she actually stayed for another three years and reached the rank of VP at Blackstone before going to do a PhD in Clinical Psychology and spending 22 years in private practice.  But it does speak to a certain perception of Mr Schwarzman as a somewhat demanding and pernickety employer; in a Wall Street Journal profile, he was reported to have forbidden his employees from wearing rubber soled shoes because he found the squeaks annoying.

At the end of the day, though, reasonable people are not often found at the tops of high mountains, and people who are buying Mr Schwarzman’s book are not going to be looking into it for tips on how to be regarded as a chilled out buddy-boss, or for that matter how to keep a sensibly low media profile when the global financial system is falling apart.  They’re looking for insights into the cultivation and handling of a massive pile of money, and it’s hard to argue with the author’s track record on that score.

Part of the secret seems to be an extraordinary willingness to “set goals so demanding and dynamic that sometimes it is even hard for me to accept yes for an answer”.  The fund whose closure nearly provided case studies for the psychotherapists was originally intended by his business partner, Pete Peterson to be a reasonable $50m.  Steve Schwarzman thought it would be better to try to raise $1bn, and set off half-killing himself on the mission to get the $830m which the fund closed at.  In between times, he recounts being charged 25 cents for a cup of coffee at the offices of a potential investor (who then turned them down), and rushing across Tokyo to be half an hour late for a meeting he didn’t want with an executive who wasn’t even in the country.

So maybe the lesson is that what you might consider to be a red flag will depend on what sort of career you are looking for.  There don’t appear to be any stories about Mr Schwarzman being dishonest or spiteful; he’s just very demanding and has, in the words of one Fortune profile, “a tin ear and a quick temper”.  That’s true of a lot of the people at the top of leading franchises.

Another person who has a reputation for a bit of a temper is Credit Suisse’s Tidjane Thiam.  However, also like Steve Schwarzman and many other top bankers, he also has a number of loyal friends and sidekicks who have risen with him over a period of decades.  One of them, unfortunately, was Pierre-Olivier Bouée (“POB”), the COO who resigned this week in the aftermath of the Iqbal Khan affair.

The two men were close; they had worked together at Prudential before Mr Thiam’s move to Credit Suisse, and at McKinsey before that.  This seems to have irritated CS veterans, who appear to have regarded POB as the “bad cop” who froze out managers who had got on the wrong side of TT.  They also apparently spoke French to one another, which might have gone down surprisingly badly in Zurich.  Now there’s a vacancy for someone to occupy the position of confidant and enforcer.  Which is a shame, as Thiam is about to start on a series of conversations with top wealth management employees to try to defend against their being poached by UBS, Deutsche and all the other competitors.  It’s always easier to launch a charm offensive as a team of two with one to handle “charm” and the other to handle “offensive”.

Meanwhile …

Rohan Ramchandani, former Citi FX trader and member of the “The Cartel” chatroom is suing the bank for $112m.  After having been acquitted of market offences last year along with two other defendants, his case is that Citi effectively framed him, offering up his communications and “decoding” them for the Justice Department in order to try to paint him as a single bad apple and get leniency on the corporate charges which Citi pleaded guilty to in 2015. (Bloomberg)

Why work is not the right place to work out your childhood issues, and the many ways in which people damage their careers by trying to reproduce their relationship with their parents.  None of the examples involve accidentally calling the boss “mum”. (FT)

Raghav Maliah and Jung Min are now co-heads of M&A Asia for Goldman Sachs.  It’s another “two co-heads are better than one” move, as they replace John Kim who is going to Carlyle. (FT)

Three Stones Capital has gone the way of so many hedge funds set up by former bank prop traders (in this case, SocGen).  It’s just not as easy without a big bank behind you. (Bloomberg)

The Stacy Macken “Witches Hat” discrimination case has had a surprising afterlife; after reading news coverage of it, the former CEO of Royal Mail was inspired to launch an equal pay campaign which now has 100 senior British businesswomen involved. (FT)

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Photo by Gift Habeshaw on Unsplash

AUTHORDaniel Davies Insider Comment
  • An
    3 October 2019

    The XTX news about the "systematic internaliser" is 2 years old (2nd
    October 2017, not 2019).

  • An
    3 October 2019

    Yes, it is surprising to use a discrimination case to start a campaign about the 'gender pay gap', which relates to different roles paying different salaries rather than to discrimination. Also surprising that it use the Metoo hashtag, which relates to sexual harassment, which is something different again. Worth noting too that Stacey Macken claimed pay discrimination against four male colleagues and lost on three of them and had her claim of sexual harassment dismissed. If the former CEO of the Royal Mail wants to campaign on equal pay she should suggest that the current CEO take a pay cut and increase the average pay of his staff, especially the lowest paid. This would also address what is called the 'gender pay gap'. Be very surprised if she does this though.

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