When no brokers are in the room, management will refer to them as “sales reps” or “the sales force”. When they are in the room, the same executives will emphasize the entrepreneurial aspects of broker business-building and the fact that they are the “lifeblood” of the company. They will mean it, too, but the mental framework of brokers as higher-knowledge, higher-paid appliance salespeople at Sears dominates their decision making nonetheless.
The denizens of Capital Markets, while recognizing the occasional value of retail-facing brokers, permit themselves a higher degree of scorn for the average broker but, importantly, this is often a defensive reflex designed to emotionally shield themselves from the recognition that, in many cases, their jobs are no less sales-oriented. The similarities between the typical broker day and that of an Institutional Salesperson are obvious from previous Interloper post “Sell-Side Optimism”. Institutional traders, who for outside observers may appear more immune from the less savory techniques of Al Bundy, have their own selling job to do, buttering up institutional traders over steak to cement relationships with the goal of receiving the biggest order tickets. Investment Bankers represent sales skills at the highest, money-is-no-object level. The $5k custom made suits, chartered planes and $2500 per bottle sauternes are part of a package designed to impress CFOs enough to “take the pitch meeting”.
The fresh out of Wharton newbies and Wall Street fanboys cringe at this depiction of finance with sales skills at its center. Drunk on “Den of Thieves”, “Barbarians at the Gate”, Gekko and other bizporn, their romantic notion of finance revolves around innovation and big ideas representing self-evident genius. They imagine split-second decision making with $100s of millions as a weekly occurrence from atop their leather, 58th floor thrones and the thought of making numerous unwelcome, unreturned cold calls never occurs to them.
Like Hollywood, there are the super-talented or super-lucky who do become magazine-cover, grossly wealthy, stars. But also like Hollywood, for every celebrity there are 10s of thousands of hangers-on, begging for single lines of onscreen dialogue with the star before heading for their shift at Starbucks. Despite Melanie Griffith’s experience in Working Girl (“Trask. Radio”), the vast majority of I-banking cake is generated by copying the one good idea generated every five years (CDOs, Leveraged Buyouts, etc) and flogging the shit out of it to any client where it might apply. (I have seen a few cases where this process is made obvious by the spelling mistakes in legal documents from the initial, trend setting deal being literally cut and pasted into new docs, even when it was another company that did the first one.)
The catalyst for this “sales skills are everything” post were the hilarious emails posted HERE, from frustrated wannabe male financiers pushing hard for second dates in spite of the comic failure of the first. For sure they’re exaggerated examples but the brutal, thick skinned, pigheaded sales skills necessary to succeed in finance are clearly on display (as is the obsessive level of detail – “playing with your hair is a clear psychological sign of flirting, so I’m confused….”. No industry rewards OCD like finance). The odds of these completely non-self-aware idiots ever sustaining a relationship that could be considered “adult” by any impartial observer are, or course, negligible. On the other hand, the prospects for their career in the industry are probably bright, particularly if they hang around long enough to learn to soften the rough edges of the pitch. I would even extend this thought to a warning – if the names of the misguided emailers become public, I would be very careful about public ridicule. These dudes are exactly the right personality type to wind up on the cover of Forbes in the next decade.