Magazine article Management Today

The Human Factor

Magazine article Management Today

The Human Factor

Article excerpt

The meaning of life is not generally much discussed in the City's dealing rooms. In the febrile atmosphere of multi-million pound deals and intense competition, there is little room for fears. But the events of 11 September have shaken those who work in the West's financial institutions far more than they have shaken the markets. The ferocious effort to get Wall Street back up and running so rapidly after the atrocities, and the determination not to be beaten by the terrorists, masks the very human reaction of the individuals who had to keep going.

Many of those who work in London's finance houses knew someone who was killed in the terrorist attacks. Apart from the sorrow that this induces, there is the fear: those working in the compact Square Mile or towering Canary Wharf felt instantly vulnerable.

That has not stopped them going to work, but it has forced them to question what they are doing. A senior London investment banker, who was in New York and all too close as the World Trade Center crumbled, confessed to me that he had worked flat out, with his colleagues, to ensure the US operations were put to rights, but he kept asking himself: 'What's the point?'

In the face of such appalling loss of life, mundane things such as bond issues and share trades seem of little import, and if the man at the top is going through such a crisis of confidence, it's likely that those down the line are experiencing a similar internal debate.

For the managers in these firms, who must be sharing in the angst, there is a desperately difficult tightrope to walk as they try to restore morale and the competitive instinct without appearing crassly insensitive.

The immediate reaction to the attack showed the financial institutions pulling together in unprecedented fashion. Firms reached an informal pact that they would not try to profit from the chaos. Although attention has focused on the short selling in airline and insurance stocks that took place just before 11 September, some of which looks suspiciously well informed, it was the orderly nature of trading in the days that followed that was most worthy of note.

With a whole swathe of Wall Street's trading systems out of action, unscrupulous rivals could have taken advantage of the situation. Instead, effort was concentrated on minimising the disruption to markets. Where necessary, firms lent stock or extended deadlines to enable trades to be completed as planned before the attacks. …

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