Memoirs of a First-Year Associate
It is late afternoon, and the sun is setting outside the window adjacent to my desk. Rays of sunshine splinter through the neighboring buildings, and spill their tangerine guts over the corner of my computer monitor. The flood gates of Vitamin D cut short by the precipice of my cubicle's east-facing wall. Surrounded by a stale trumpeting of keyboards and casual conversation, I take a deep breath and am hugged by the familiar nose of stale coffee.
The faint mechanical churning of a Xerox machine can be heard bellowing in the distance. The crude machine shutters under its constant and unrelenting workload. I almost feel pity for the beast…
As I adjust my seat, a familiar voice echoes through the office daze.
I spin out of my seat with a premeditated twist and abruptly make my way towards the genesis of the noise. Like a drone moving towards its homing beacon, I march deliberately but not in an overt hurry. I weave through the maze of cubicles to find my Managing Director's office. Fresh off the phone, my MD is in a particularly volatile mood:
"F#cking #sshole," my MD mutters as he hangs up the phone and stares directly at me. "Keyser, never get married! You'll save yourself a lot of trouble later in life…. that goes for you too!"
My MD gestures to a young intern flanking the desk.
After enduring the unscheduled conversation with my MD's divorce attorney, the intern's eyes have glazed over as he concentrates on the floor. Visibly discomforted, the realities of middle age degradation and the inevitable fate of a high-profile career in banking have begun rooting inside the poor college Junior.
The young intern nods vigorously; He'll have a bright future in Private Equity.
I chuckle nervously to break the tension, "I have the dial-in for our call with Generic Deciduous Shrub Capital."
My MD replies as he shuffles various papers on his desk, "…Good, let's figure out what the hold-up with this deal is!"
To provide background, Generic Deciduous Shrub Capital (GDSC for short) is engaged with us under LOI to acquire our client's Food & Beverage company, but they've been dragging their feet through Due Diligence. Intentionally disorganized and operating under a perpetual state of amnesia, GDSC has been re-inquiring about due diligence items already provided to them and asking clarification where little is warranted.
We postulate they are buying themselves time to raise capital for the deal. Our call with GDSC's senior leadership team is an attempt to uncover the truth and if possible set our deal process back to true north. We expect no more than a 15min conversation.
We dial-in, and exchange pleasantries
Out of the gates, GDSC's Senior VP tries to rail-road the conversation. She goes straight at the jugular asking about our client's Wholefood's account, "Our analysis shows that channel sales are down 1.5% on the year – what's the story behind this?
My MD broods, and gestures towards me to deflect the inquisition.
If you're unfamiliar with banking, gesturing to a first-year associate to make a key play on the phone is similar to the head coach calling down the bench to the third string. I'm not quite the team towel boy, but I'm sitting right next to him.
Adrenaline floods through my veins as my mind races for syllables. I stumble, stutter, and squirt out the following automated response: "Hi… ummm this is Keyser… we would be happy to schedule another call to address all of your questions on sales skews, but for sake of the time we allocated for this call, I kindly suggest we move onto addressing the overall direction of the due diligence process."
My MD nods his head and gives me a Thumbs Up (I blush), but before I'm able to congratulate myself for a perfectly executed rebuttal. The Opposing VP throws the entire weight of her Kellogg MBA at me – I turn white.
"Keyser, I DO NOT appreciate being interrupted, and I actually find it incredibly disrespectful. My questions are important to our process, and we need answers before we can get comfortable with this deal!"
My MD laughs, and lets the VP punch herself out as he calmly retorts, "That's great, I want to discuss the fact that we're three weeks into this process and we still haven't received a complete due diligence checklist despite repeated requests for one. If I hadn't worked with your firm on other transactions I would have assumed this was your first time buying a company."
The deal falls apart in glorious fashion. After a series of white-collar back-handed exchanges, both parties decide to release themselves from the obligations of the LOI.
Upon "huddling" with my MD after the call, he explains that my role on today's call was to get practice at having confrontation over the phone. As I get up to leave his office, my MD chuckles, and says "I was ready to call it quits with these clowns weeks ago."
And just like that, a deep sinking feeling takes me over. Like I am at the mercy of higher powers - making active and seemingly independent moves to win a game that's already had its outcome decided. Such is life as a junior banker.