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Opinion

Work to live not live to work

How do you keep the best talent? Pressing the pause button on a career in investment banking; Sex, beaches, bankers, Brazilians and videotape.


 It started with Hope – or rather, lack of Hope. Last month Deutsche Bank announced that Hope Pascucci, co-head of global capital markets, was to relinquish her management responsibilities to spend more time with her two children. Hope will move to Boston but will continue as a member of Deutsche’s global banking and global markets executive committees.

Hope Pascucci
Hope Pascucci’s decision to leave Deutsche Bank to spend more time with her two children is courageous. And it prompted me to ponder: “Why do we work?”
Investment banking is exciting, addictive and financially rewarding. Few have the strength of character to step off the treadmill. One senior banker commented: “It’s the A-players who leave. They know they can succeed in another field.” Pascucci’s decision is courageous. And it prompted me to ponder: “Why do we work?” For financiers, money is only part of the answer. Anyone who’s been in the industry longer than 15 years and still works for the money is a failure. However, self-image is often defined by work. “I am a managing director on Wall Street. Therefore I am.” And the money is a way of keeping score. A friend who is worth $250 million moans that he is not a billionaire. This is ridiculous. After a certain point, what does the extra wealth bring you? You end up worrying how to give it away most effectively.

In early September, Stanley Fink, chief executive of hedge fund group Man announced that he would become non-executive deputy chairman. He wants to commit more time to personal interests, in particular his philanthropic activities. I admire Fink. Several years ago he was diagnosed with a brain tumour (from which he has made a full recovery). Did this reminder of mortality influence his view that we should work to live not live to work?

I might be seeing shadows where none exist but it seems to me that there is a change of sentiment among middle-aged financiers. A friend ruminated recently: “Abigail, which of our contemporaries works in a 9 to 5 City job any more? And more important, who would still want to do that?” Well, in addition to Hope, three well-known capital markets professionals have decided to press the pause button.

Chris Coles, previously head of Barclays Capital’s leveraged finance business, is taking a sabbatical from the bank commencing this week. Coles is viewed as an outstanding professional. Barclays was ranked second (by Dealogic) as lead arranger of European leveraged loans for 2005. Chris is a rare animal who takes the business rather than himself seriously. A colleague adds: “Coles is a top performer. Totally unpolitical, he just gets on with it.”

So what next for capable Chris? He will be studying international development at the University of Bath. “I wanted a change,” he emailed. “I realized that I had not had a break since I left Oxford University in the early 1980s. Grant Kvalheim and Bob Diamond have been very good about my decision. All the best for now – off to my first lecture in 24 years.’

I applaud Grant and Bob’s approach. As far as I’m concerned a key issue for the industry is how to retain top talent once the buzz of the big bonus fades. It could be argued that Dresdner Bank is faltering in this regard. Since Stefan Jentzsch took over from Andrew Pisker last November, many mutter about a revolving door. A senior German source opined: “Jentzsch is not making many friends at Dresdner. There is a clear distinction between him, Jens-Peter Neumann and the guys they are hiring versus everybody who was there before.”

Sean Park
Sean Park used to be a world-class skier. And for the next six months he will be skiing in France with his wife and children

In a way it’s not surprising. Any new overlord will want his own people around him, and that’s a consistent theme in banking. Neumann joined Dresdner Bank from HypoVereinsbank in April 2006 as head of capital markets. But some say that to lose individuals of the calibre of Joe Dryer (most recently co-head of advisory) and Sean Park (former head of digital markets) is bad business. Sean talks of taking a break from the rat race. At 38, he has spent nearly two decades in the industry. His career has so far spanned the trading, syndicate and e-commerce functions. “A big restructuring at Dresdner Kleinwort was a natural opportunity to reassess and catch my breath,” he told me.

Park used to be a world-class skier. And for the next six months, he will be skiing in France with his wife and children. Park – dubbed “a charming workaholic” by one competitor – even talks about trying to qualify for the Winter Olympics – “perhaps for something like the Sri Lankan team” he jokes. In 2007, Park will decide whether “to go entrepreneurial or surrender to the allure of a big bank and a steady income”.

Joe Dryer is also leaving Dresdner. He joined six years ago as co-head of global debt origination. And one year off his 50th birthday, he has resigned to consider other opportunities: “I felt I had reached a crossroads. It was time to pass the baton,” he said. “I want to take six months off, pry open my head and let the wind rush through.”

Maybe Dryer is suffering from reorganization fatigue? And who can blame him? Dresdner has been through several major structural changes, including the acquisition of Wasserstein Perella in early 2001 and the formation of a new corporate and investment banking division in late 2005.

I thought of these refuseniks when I read the Financial Times last Friday. The lead story concerned Sir Philip Green, a portly British billionaire, who owns the high street retailer Bhs. Sir Philip blamed “stupid and fundamental mistakes” for a 60% plunge in 2005 pre-tax profits. But 54-year-old Green insisted that he was “working flat out from 6.30 in the morning to 11 o’clock at night” to reverse the deterioration.

I couldn’t help stifling a yawn when I saw Green’s unrelenting schedule. If you had that much money, would you beaver away like an obsequious graduate trainee? Some argue of course that such endeavour demonstrates an admirable combative spirit and hunger for perfection that few can match.

“I think Green got distracted by the M&S bid,” a banker said. Ah yes, the famous battle for Marks and Spencer. In 2004, Green attempted a £9.1 billion hostile takeover for the high street store. He failed and exited left of stage stamping his tiny foot and threatening his rival Stuart Rose: “They [M&S] will have us breathing down their neck in every shopping centre in the UK.”

But Rose has performed an impressive turnaround. In mid July 2004, M&S shares were around £3.46. Yesterday, they closed at £6.52. Who’s the better retailer, Green or Rose? What do you think?

There’s a lesson here for all of us: the gods can smile but they can also frown. So during the good times, be humble because everyone has bad times. Or, as one of my business school professors said: “It’s not about what happens on the way up, it’s what happens on the way down.”

And talking of downward spirals, my Brazilian mole, Carlos the Great, called in. What is the hot topic in São Paulo, I enquired? The presidential election or perhaps, the Gol airplane that nose-dived in to the Amazon jungle killing 155 passengers? “Absolutely not,” said Carlos. “Everyone is fixated on that videotape.”

Apparently, Renato “Tato” Malzoni, a Merrill Lynch private banker (and heir to the Malzoni real estate fortune), was caught on camera cavorting at a Spanish beach with his gorgeous girlfriend, Daniella Cicarelli. Cicarelli, a model and an MTV television presenter, was briefly married to Brazilian soccer star Ronaldo. It’s a good story. But why are the Brazilians so intrigued? After all, the film Sex, lies and videotape was made long ago.

I always thought of private bankers as just that – private. However, after the high profile case of HSBC’s Monica Wong (detailed in a previous column) and now news of Malzoni, I perceive private bankers in a different light.

Final musing: you read it first in the Abigail with attitude column. Last week when discussing online gambling stocks, I pontificated: ‘If something is cheap, it can always get cheaper.’ This Monday, the sector plummeted. Market leader PartyGaming’s shares fell nearly 60% in one day. Thud – that’s the sound of your columnist fainting. My sources tell me a major global fund manager is a huge loser.

Next week: Amelia steps back as well. Fawzi commits to Credit Suisse. Why work (continued)? Please send news and views to abigail@euromoney.com.


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