100 Minutes Paternity Leave…
I got the phone call at 3PM, just as we were finalising the biggest M&A pitch of the quarter. My wife was in labour with our first child, and on the way to the hospital. My MD Philip was an awkward character, but surely the birth of my first born was sufficient excuse to leave early and let the juniors handle the presentation.
‘Of course John, you’ve got to go’ he barked once I had shared my news. ‘And don’t worry about the rehearsal call tonight. But make sure you are on the 8am run through tomorrow. And I’ll see you in the airport lounge by 11’.
I had known if the baby came early it could clash with the pitch. I’d worried more about a scheduling issue than the impending birth of my first born. But the realisation that I was being permitted the rest of the afternoon off to meet my new child before being required back at the coal face, was when something finally snapped. By my calculations that would give me about 100 minutes paternity leave. How the fuck had I ended up here?
15 years earlier I had stumbled into the bright lights of the city as an unspeakably enthusiastic 21-year-old. Draped in my new Next suit and black plastic shoes, with a coveted spot on a graduate training programme at a bulge bracket investment bank, I had made it. My plans at that point were straight forward. Earn a shitload of cash and find a trophy girlfriend. Those noble goals represented the full extent of my youthful ambition.
I had little inkling that I was entering the modern-day equivalent of the work camp. Where 80-100 hour weeks were standard, the destruction in your mental and physical health was a sacrifice expected of all new recruits, and you left your ability to form healthy relationships at the door.
And for 5 years I loved it. All-nighters finishing presentations, big M&A mandates, multiple competing deadlines, all washed down with six figure bonuses. What wasn’t to like. Sure, I didn’t have a girlfriend for 5 years, but my sex life was a sacrifice worth making.
It was when I wanted a little more that the problems crept in. Try maintaining a healthy relationship when you never leave the office before midnight. See how many times you can be forgiven for standing up a date. See how tolerant a new girlfriend will be when you spend a romantic weekend away chained to your work-issue laptop updating a client valuation.
Multiple failed attempts at relationships led me to the conclusion that a junior investment bankers sex life is most similar to a convicted criminals. You are stuck 24/7 with the same group of people, who uniquely understand your peculiar routines and your lack of a life outside your 4 walls, and you haven’t seen your mum for months. Not to mention that it’s mostly men with too much testosterone and a desire to be seen as top dog.
So if you wanted to get laid, the quicker you realised you had better stick to your grad class, the better. At least that way you both accepted that the only time you have together will be between 3 and 7am, you could discuss excel shortcuts and risk free rates after the act of love making (during if that’s your thing), and if you are really lucky they will meet you in the disabled toilets on the client floor after 11pm and give you a handjob.
And to stretch the analogy to breaking point, if you could get into a romantic tryst with a VP it was like being in an illicit romance with the prison screw. You could enjoy regular sex with your superior, with the added benefit of protection when work was being handed out. But the price you paid was your fellow grads all hated you (it was worth it).
Things get better of course. As you rise through the banking hierarchy you are rewarded with a little more freedom. A Friday night date isn’t frowned upon, planning a week away during the summer holidays is grudgingly accepted, and the hours get more manageable as you push down the heavy lifting onto the latest intake of enthusiastic young recruits. But each incremental privilege was earned through blood, sweat and tears.
The rules of thumb that me and my fellow grads adopted went something like this:
Analyst years (1-3) – don’t even think about romance. The job is everything. Your family, your lover, your confidante, your idol. You live and breathe the job. If you imagine that you are living in North Korea it can make it more tolerable.
Associate years (4-6) – a romance can be carefully pursued. Stick to colleagues if possible, or associates from other banks. No one else will understand. Don’t consider children. Children before VP level are frowned upon. If it happens, keep it secret.
VP years (7-10+) – you have reached the promised land – well done! Romance and marriage are acceptable. Hell, have a kid if you want. But be back in the office to finish the deck in the morning You want to make MD, right? You can use the bigger bonuses to pay for therapy.
Are things getting better in the industry? Undoubtably yes. Toxic masculinity is no longer as acceptable, and there is an appreciation that the destruction of a generation of junior bankers mental health to drive revenues isn’t a particularly sustainable business model. But it’s not universal, and tales of corporate bullying and burnout persist, and in many areas are increasing.
What’s the answer? Beats me. I’ve got 3 large M&A deals on the go and just heard one of my team will shortly be going on maternity leave. I mean WTF, doesn’t she know how busy we are….?
Author: The Secret Investment Banker
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