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Morning Coffee: BlackRock’s back to the office memo is a study in corporate euphemism. The big Goldman M&A job that nobody seems to want

A decent rule of thumb with regard to corporate communication is that the sincerity of praise is inversely proportional to the number of recipients.  If someone in senior management sends a personal email to you telling you what a great employee you are, that’s very significant indeed.  If they send it to a small team of about half a dozen people, that’s still a major gesture.  But when there’s a message going out to all staff talking how great and important every single employee of the whole firm is … if anything, that’s likely to be preparatory to some unpalatable news.

And so, BlackRock employees reading things like “When we think about what drives our firm forward, everything comes down to our greatest asset — our people” and “We have felt the energy generated by being together” should have been wary.  It might sound like a yoga teacher’s motivational chat, but when they say “This energy, and the horizontal collaboration powers, are what make BlackRock so special,” it's about more than the downward dog.

Yes, these are all euphemisms for “we’re reducing work-from-home benefits”.  Or to put it less clearly, “evolving our Future of Work pilot”. 

The “Future of Work” (FoW) began in October 2021.  At the time, it was only applicable to about fifty per cent of BlackRock’s global staff, because the rest of them were working from home five days a week because of the pandemic.  As the lockdowns ended, though, BlackRock continued to allow two days a week working from home, with three days each week in the office.  That’s now being “evolved” down to one day a week.  There might occasionally be some “additional flexibility” if you can agree it with your manager, but basically everyone is meant to “consistently adhere to the FoW requirement”.

The only other exception is that there will apparently be “seasonal flexibility”, which means that once a year “during a time period that is relevant in your country”, you can work from home for two weeks.  This seems to be an existing benefit under the “Future of Work”, so BlackRock employees will presumably know what it means, but it doesn’t look like you can depart to the beach; if you’re going to log in from anywhere other than your home address, you’ll need special permission.

So, BlackRock people will be enjoying 33% more “teaching moments between team members” and be that much more likely to “step up and get into the mix”, which is particularly important during “fast-moving” markets with “high-client-interest events happening”.  And (possibly a tacit acknowledgement that the recipients of the email aren’t all going to be particularly stoked by the new policy), everyone is encouraged to “transition into this model by increasing your in-office days” between now and September, when the new Future of Work begins.  The authors (COO Rob Goldstein and Head of HR Caroline Heller) sign off with a cheerful “See you in the office!”, although this too is probably not to be taken literally.

Elsewhere, the old proverb might be that to lose one Chief Operating Officer of M&A could be considered a misfortune, but to lose two begins to look like carelessness. At the end of March, Russ Hutchinson left that job at Goldman Sachs, after only five months.  Troy Broderick was promoted to replace him, but he too has now left after only two weeks to go to Perella Weinberg.  What is it about that job?

“Chief Operating Officer of M&A” is a difficult title to understand and can be very different at different banks, which might be part of the problem.  It’s basically the job managing the M&A business as a business; doing all the things that aren’t directly related to doing deals.  These can be as varied as strategy and planning, keeping track of costs, developing new products and preparing budgets.  On the one hand, it’s obviously a very senior and important job (John Waldron holds it at group level for GS, combined with the title of President).  On the other hand, being in charge of everything except the deals, in a business that’s all about deals, is clearly a mixed blessing, particularly as bankers who take on COO roles are often expected to keep up their personal revenue generating franchises as well.

Consequently, it’s often a hot potato of a job.  It has to be given to someone who is really good at banking, but it’s not necessarily a great prize in itself.  It can be a stepping stone to greater things, but it can also be an occasion for good bankers to start asking themselves whether they ever really wanted to “go into management”.

Meanwhile …

Like many other people in banking, Alexander Wynaendts has a lower profile than Paul Achleitner.  However, as Achleitner’s successor to the job of chair of the board at Deutsche Bank, he’s had to deal with a number of quite tricky decisions over personnel and legal issues, despite not speaking good enough German to handle the shareholders’ meeting.  According to him, he has “avoided the need” to annoy Christian Sewing so far. (FT)

Moelis isn’t just picking up employees from Silicon Valley Bank – they’ve hired Edouard Debost from JP Morgan to continue growing in Europe (Financial News)

Another reason to work from home if your office is anywhere near 161 Maiden Lane in New York’s financial district – there’s a half-built tower there that’s leaning over at an alarming angle, has numerous fire code breaches and might drop “components” 58 stories down onto the street. (The City)

Alternatively, Meta is trying, slightly desperately, to convince people that those “teaching moments” could ideally happen in virtual reality (Bloomberg)

And if banking goes back to the office, there will still be work-from-home jobs available in sunrise industries like “generating fictitious profiles and catfishing people to keep them interested in a dating site”, a job in which it’s apparently possible to accidentally meet your old school friends. (WIRED)

Consello Group (a “financial services advisory and strategic investing firm”) has hired Mark Shafir, the former co-head of M&A at Citi.  However, he’s slightly been overshadowed by their other big hire announced at the same time – Serena Williams will be joining them as a special advisor. (Financial News)

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Photo by Omar Al-Ghosson on Unsplash

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AUTHORDaniel Davies Insider Comment

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