Magazine article The New Yorker

Chased Away You're Fired!

Magazine article The New Yorker

Chased Away You're Fired!

Article excerpt

I joined Chase before it merged with J. P. Morgan and when it was still a lousy investment bank. Some of my colleagues, graduates of business schools I had never heard of, liked to drape the broad length of their Hermes ties over one shoulder, with the narrow length dangling down their chest--a look that suggested that they were too busy to worry about appearances, although, in reality, we had very little work. This meant that my colleagues and I could go shopping at lunchtime, stopping at Pink for shirts of Egyptian broadcloth or Sea Island cotton, or at Johnston & Murphy for shoes. I kept my purchases to low-cost luxuries, like cashmere socks. I did this because I assumed we would all be fired. It seemed obvious that one day somebody would realize that we shouldn't be paid a hundred thousand dollars a year to shop.

Also, there were regular rumors that Chase was going to merge with J. P. Morgan or Merrill Lynch or Goldman Sachs. Whenever the rumors started, bankers huddled around the Bloomberg terminals and all the bathroom stalls filled with people worrying about their finances. Our anxiety was reasonable: most of us were at Chase because those other institutions had declined to hire us.

But even within Chase there were a few groups that were as good as those at any other investment bank, and toward the end of my first year I was thrilled to get the chance to work in the Structured Finance group. Their job was to market tax and accounting strategies, to companies like Enron. Before joining Structured Finance, I had never even talked to a client or gone to a client meeting. Within weeks of starting there, I flew to Houston several times and began work on seven or eight transactions. I was helping companies dodge taxes, but at least the work mattered to somebody.

I had been accepted into Structured Finance because I had gone to law school and primarily studied tax. But, not having gone to business school, I was underqualified for the work that I was actually doing. Like many people, when I'm nervous I try to be likable. It's a rare person who will hire an incompetent simply because he's fond of them, but enjoying someone's company does make it easier to appreciate qualities such as hard work--and I was working very long hours. …

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