Friday, 31 July 2009

Fact as fiction, and other storytelling techiques

One good way of telling the truth obliquely is to pretend that it is fiction. This was an established technique for ex-spys to spill the beans; and it works for bankers too. Humour is good here - it makes it clear that the author has enhanced the story for comic effect. Except that often they haven't. The Epicurean Dealmaker is a master at this style: often he sounds as if he's relaying a shaggy dog story over a martini in the Library Bar at the Laneborough, when he's actually just giving you the inside track. This passage, though, is uncharacteristically straight. He's talking about the perceived (and actual) success of Goldie:
360-Degree review systems, 24-hour response voice mail, and rotation of bankers through different departments only work when senior managers refuse to make exceptions to the rules. There are a nauseating number of investment banks which profess an undying commitment to teamwork and a dedicated focus on cultivating client relationships rather than chasing transactions. But these banks fall short time and time again because they do not enforce these principles. If Mr. Big Swinging Dick Managing Director who brings in a billion dollar IPO or a ten billion dollar merger throws a hissy fit and threatens to stomp out the door if he has to share credit, or a successful M&A banker refuses to manage a group in Capital Markets, or a Group Head inflates the review scores of all his subordinates to boost their pay and his power, senior management can either hold firm and preserve the culture, or they can cave. If they hold firm, everyone else at the bank hears about it, and they learn that the rules and the culture will be enforced. If they cave, everyone knows that too, and it's off to the bad old races of "what's in it for me." Sadly, most investment bank executive teams cave.
Michael Lewis would have illustrated this story with a mildly amusing tale of bankerly bad behaviour. Other journalists would perhaps have tried to garner outrage before they had even finished making the point. But, being an insider, ED is smart enough to know that the sex, drugs and science fiction work best as garnishes for the real erudition.

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