Off message: Sofas, parties and videotape
There’s no safe way to negotiate the minefield that is an investment bank’s Christmas party.
It is that time of year again when fit-inducing commercialism combines with nonstop Rat Pack Christmas tunes to drive us all mad. It is also the time of year when investment banks put on their Christmas parties.
To the outside world, a Christmas party is a Christmas party. But to investment bankers it is a time to move beyond impressing each other by comparing the size of their Rolexes to showing just how garish, wasteful and over the top they can be.
Why am I writing about this? Because the job of planning and executing a Christmas party usually falls to the events team within Comms and Marketing. The events team is a group that is never fully appreciated for what it does, but that’s another story that I will write about one of these days.
Here follows one of my favourite Christmas party stories.
A friend of mine was appointed head of Comms in Asia/Pacific for a well-known investment bank. The year before he joined, this bank had gone wildly over budget in its Christmas party planning. Headquartered in Hong Kong, it had taken its employees on a moveable feast through various districts, at each stop piling on more lavish food and drink. When the bill came in, the recently installed CEO almost choked over his South China Morning Post and vowed the following year’s soiree would be as lean as they come.
So it was that the holiday blast my friend’s department had to plan was to take place within the bank’s premises in Central. Wishing to make a point, the new CEO ordered that the food, booze and music would all be second rate, as a punishment for the previous year’s overindulgence.
My friend did try to warn his boss that parties on premises often end less than well, given the activities that can often ensue when colleagues linger too long over the punch bowl. Such advice did not sway the leader’s intent to deliver a message of frugality.
And so the Vienna sausages were ordered, a DJ with an enviable ABBA collection was found and all was set.
When the bell rang at 4pm; the men headed to the pub next door to get primed while the women crowded the toilets to overdress and put on enticing makeup.
The party started. Senior managers were instructed to be off the premises by 8pm so as not to be culpable for any meretricious behaviour that might occur.
I’m not in the mood for any low grade pornography at the moment. Just give me a quick summary - CEO
On Monday morning when the CEO arrived, he was pleased with himself. He had signalled his no-nonsense approach and appeared to have got away with it with limited casualties.
But then, the head of security appeared at his door, holding a bag full of videotapes from the office security cameras. “I thought you might like to see what your employees were up to at the party,” he said.
The CEO was concerned but not panicky. He had expected a certain amount of alcohol-fuelled congress but the sheer number of tapes did get his attention.
“I’m not in the mood for any low grade pornography at the moment. Just give me a quick summary,” he said.
“Well I think if anyone were to offer an award for most creative use of a trading desk, we would be in the running,” said his security chief.
The CEO thought for a moment and asked: “Is there any one of those tapes I should be particularly concerned about?”
“Well a matter of fact, there is.”
A little background is needed at this point. When the CEO moved to Hong Kong, his wife bought him a very expensive leather couch. Needless to say he liked that couch very much.
So when the head of security put a tape into the VCR machine and showed him the athletic endeavours of a young, loving couple who were making dents in the seats in places which heretofore were undentable, the boss was equal parts dumbstruck, furious and fearful of telling his wife.
Since CEOs are men of action, one might have expected some bold response to follow. But after thinking about it, he decided that he couldn’t single out the couch couple and if he went after all the perpetrators, word would get out that the bank was something akin to Sodom and Gomorrah, which might have increased the number of job applications but would not be good for its public image.
He also could not figure out a way to tell his wife what had happened to her prize purchase and was forced instead to fume silently, unable to look at his poor, sinned upon couch.
So what lessons can I impart to Christmas party revellers?
Don’t hire a DJ who only plays ABBA records.
If you’re a managing director, have one drink and run away.
If you must stay and fully participate in all that’s on offer, for goodness’ sake stay away from the boss’s couch.
Merry Christmas and happy holiday season to all.