To this day, the willingness of a Wall Street investment bank to pay me hundreds of thousands of dollars to dispense investment advice to grownups remains a mystery to me. I was 24 years old, with no experience of, or particular interest in, guessing which stocks and bonds would rise and which would fall. The essential function of Wall Street is to allocate capital—to decide who should get it and who should not. Believe me when I tell you that I hadn't the first clue.I'd never taken an accounting course, never run a business, never even had savings of my own to manage. I stumbled into a job at Salomon Brothers in 1985 and stumbled out much richer three years later, and even though I wrote a book about the experience, the whole thing still strikes me as preposterous—which is one of the reasons the money was so easy to walk away from. I figured the situation was unsustainable.
Thanks to… well, whoever sent me this. Very interesting piece by Michael Lewis, whose Liar's Poker was a hilarious book and a great way for people to get introduced to Wall Street.
Lewis in this piece posits that that game is up for Wall Street, that its unsustainable lunacy has finally caught up with it. The premise of the piece is erroneous, I think, in that Wall Street has probably always been unsustainably crazy, not just in recent decades as he seems to imply. If you go back and read Galbraith's book about the Great Crash you'll be amazed at how familiar all the stories sound.
Still, a very interesting read. And here's another, funnier confessional of sorts from a once (and current again) Wall Streeter, my friend Eric Salzman over at MonkeyBusinessBlog. His take on bonus season was hilarious:
Ahh, it's bonus time on Wall Street. Time has certainly flown by for me. It occurred to me that it has been nearly three years since I shaped up for the "big year-end meeting". Usually I was sitting across the table from some guy I thought was a complete D-bag (one time it was a female D-bag). The D-bag would talk and as far as I was concerned he might as well have been Charlie Brown's teacher. Remember that from "Peanuts"?
Teacher: Blah blah blah…blah blah blah
Charlie Brown: "Yes mam."
Teacher: "Blah blah blah bla-bla!"
Charlie Brown: "Yes mam, school is no place for a dog. I'll bring him home now."
Until they got to the number. I would get the number and then I would become the D-bag. Not to the bossman's face….except one time. No, I would wait till I got outside and I would call the missus and start bitching about "how I got screwed…blah blah…." I didn't think I was a D-bag back then. I thought I was an undervalued, unappreciated "asset". Now that I look back at it, I know I was beyond a D-bag (last time with that word!) back then.
I usually got handed a check that was bigger than 5 or 10 of my Dad's yearly paychecks combined and it pissed me off that it wasn't enough. Afterall, all Dad did was educate kids. What did I do? Looking back on it now I don't have a freaking clue! I pushed pieces of paper around, thought about "big thoughts", explained why one piece of sh*t bond was better or worse than another..etc…etc. In the end I hated it, which may explain why I got my ass canned in late '07. It was probably written all over my forehead.
I'm actually kind of surprised there aren't more guys coming out of Wall Street eager to tell the dark/funny story. There's like no end of guys who come out of Wall Street writing books bragging about how freaking ingenious and rich and, well, implicitly enormously hung they are, but the funny story — we don't get that so much.