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How my friend Caleb became a legend among wall street junior analysts

August 10th, 2009 · 6 Comments

I met Caleb my first day in college. Caleb was a sophomore while I was a freshmen. We ended up taking at least one class together every semester until Caleb graduated.

I was a computer science major, and Caleb studied economics. But, computer was Caleb’s hobby since he was a little kid. So, he took several computer science classes with me. We worked on many computer science projects together, pulling countless nighters.

Caleb was a brilliant computer programmer. Although he wasn’t major in computer science, he could have gotten a software development job anywhere he wanted.

But, Caleb’s career goal was to work for an investment bank. He was really into high finance. He took graduate-level finance classes when he was still an undergraduate. At that time, the "hottest employers" on campus were investment banks and management consulting firms such as Golden Sachs, Morgan Stanley, McKinsey, Bain, Boston Consulting Group, etc. Caleb had his eyes fixed on the top investment banks.

Caleb had read Liar’s Poker: Rising Through the Wreckage on Wall Street. He told me that the first two-year of his banking career would be like hell. He was prepared to fully dedicated himself to the banking job for two years, and then went back to school to get an MBA. He was prepared intellectually, emotionally, and mentally for the grind of investment banking.

In the end, Caleb was hired by one of the top two investment banks. The bank only extended one offer that year out of hundreds of applicants. Caleb was thrilled. Caleb started working for the bank in San Francisco late that summer.

Soon after Caleb started working, he disappeared from his friends. He was working day and night. He was working in the weekends. Although I was one of his closest friends and I was only 30-minute BART ride from him, I rarely saw him.

Several of us went to visit him one Friday evening at his nice 39th floor office in one of the tallest buildings in SF. He chatted with us for about 15 minutes, but he couldn’t go to dinner with us because he had to work.

He showed up on campus several times because he was part of the campus recruiting team for his employer. He would show up at the campus event, well-dressed, but look dead tired. We, his college buddies, would go to chat with him after the corporation presentation. He sounded really tense and business-like. He had to conduct himself in certain way. Most presentations ended around 7PM. He would head right back to work.

He ate all of his meals at work. Every night his employer ordered food for all of them.

A few months later, around the Christmas holiday, I had a chat with Caleb. He was stressed, tired, frustrated, and angry.

He had started to lose hair. This was a healthy young man who was only twenty-two years old. He told me that he took a business trip to the corporate headquarter in New York city. Every single male VP or above he saw at the corporate headquarter were balding. He told me that it was not uncommon for the young analysts and associates to start losing hair.

I asked Caleb what kept him so busy. He told me that as an investment banking analyst, you’re basically doing a lot of paper shoving. His work was like a secretary, proof-reading piles and piles of documents, and getting them delivered to clients under very tight deadline. It’s very high pressure for very mundane and tedious work.

In the investment banking industry, the organizational structure was a reversed pyramid. In his office, Caleb was the only analyst. There were a couple of associates, four VPs, and several directors. Basically, all of the tedious works were pushed down to the analysts and associates.

Analysts and associates made good money. But, if you divided their salaries by the actual hours they worked, the pay wasn’t great at all!

But, what’s worse was the culture of investment banking. There was little respect to individuals. It’s very hierarchical. The VPs or directors would curse at people when they got into an arguments. To put it mildly, many of the investment bankers would not pass Professor Sutton’s No Asshole Rule.

So, Caleb hated his job. He wanted to get out. In fact, he was so fed up with banking that he didn’t care about his career path any more.

He had a strategy and a plan. His annual bonus would be deposited to his bank account exactly one year after his start date. Before his "liberation day”, Caleb cleaned his locker. He removed all of the files on his computer. On the day that he got his bonus, he checked his checking account and made sure that the bonus money was wired into his account.

Then, Caleb walked into his managing director office around noon, and said "today is my last day. I’m done." The MD in the office was livid, and started cursing and shouting.

Caleb simply walked away.

Caleb never looked back. Today he work in a field that he would never have imagined or planned ten years ago. But, his career is thriving. He is in control of his own destiny. He is doing just fine without climbing the investment banking ladder and getting an MBA.

Caleb burned the bridge with the bank. He did something that every career advisor would advise against.

But, apparently, his story was quickly passed among wall street junior analysts. Even a few years after he quitted, people are still talking about what he did.

He simply did something that a lot of people wished they would have done.

Disclaimer: This is a true story. But, to protect confidentiality, the names in this story have been changed.

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Tags: Corporate Ladder · Frustration@Work · MBA

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 TedHoward // Aug 11, 2009 at 7:04 pm

    Medical residents are treated in a similar manner. They may work a little less but they only get paid about $40k, have no perks, and have to pay for much of their own career expenses. After one year, they can get a license, quit residency, and practice medicine as a non-boarded general practitioner.
    One big difference is that overworked, underpaid, underappreciated, and abused doctors can kill you by accident. Or they can die on their drive home asleep at the wheel (it happens every year). Residents are unionized but not legally allowed to strike. The residency system is exempt from all anti-trust laws by Congress (rider on a pension bill a few years ago).
    I often say that I'm very happy that I never wanted to be a doctor. I guess I'm also happy I didn't want to be an investment banker.

  • 2 GeekMBA360 // Aug 13, 2009 at 5:26 pm

    Thanks, Ted.

    From my perspective, becoming a doctor is a much more meaningful job than becoming an investment banking. I know the hours for medical residency is insane and resident doctors are miserable. But, at least they're working hard toward a meaningful goal (hopefully) to save people's lives.

    I didn't go to the medical route, but I can see myself to be motivated to overcome the hardship associates with medical school and residency. However, it's virtually impossible to get me motivated to purse investment banking. I cannot find any meaning in investment banking.

  • 3 TedHoward // Aug 13, 2009 at 9:55 pm

    It is definitely more motivational.
    It's that same motivation that drives college students to delay their career until they're at least 29, sometimes 37, and start their career with $140k (average) in unsecured debt. Motivational, but I can think of no worse industry in the USA.

  • 4 Tyler // Aug 14, 2009 at 11:22 am

    Hi there,

    first of all, my compliments to this really interesting blog! I am reading it for a couple of months now.
    I have never worked in investment banking, but I know people who have and they basically told me exactly the same things you mentioned – the hours are a nightmare and the “corporate culture” resembles a nuclear blast zone.
    In other words, I have no intention to ever enter that sector as well. I am more interested in business consulting, because I am interested in working on intense projects in different types of industries.
    I know that consulting firms are not based on a “reversed pyramid” employment structure, but how about the corporte culture?
    I have worked with a small, specialised consultancy firms for almost 2 years and I totally loved it. But how about the big ones? McKinsey, BCG, Bain? I guess there are some people with with impressive CV's working there and I kind of wonder whether or not that impacts on their social skills.
    I have always wanted to work with one of those companies, but I would not do it if I realised that even people at the bottom-end of the hierarchy are treated with respect. I don't believe in the necessity of taking s**** as part of ones “education”.
    Obviously the recruiting websites of all those consulting firms highlight how grerraaaat the working atmosphere there is, but let's face it consultancies have tight schedules and a lot of client pressure too.
    Do you have any experiences in that area you could share?
    Would love to read your thoughts!

  • 5 GeekMBA360 // Aug 17, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    Thanks for reading my blogs! And thanks for your questions.

    I'll write a full-length post on your question regarding management consulting. I'll get it done in a few days.

    Here are my short answers:
    1) management consulting firms like McKinsey/Bain/BCG also have a reverse pyramid org structure. As you move up the ladder, it's basically “up or out”.

    2) comparing to investment banks, consulting firms have more humane, civilized work environment due to the nature of their work.

    3) McKinsey/Bain/BCG could be good entry-career for folks who're in their 20's. Those firms provide good business training. Consultants from these firms are well-spoke, smooth, and analytical. However, they lack solid operational experience and don't know how to run a real business.

    4) most consultants are interesting people. Again, due to the nature of their work, they need to be somewhat likable, polite, smooth, and communicative. Also, consultants travel a lot, and spend a lot of time outside their home offices. This helps make the office politics more tolerable comparing to i-banking.

    I'll stop here. Will write more on my post.

    let me know if you've any question.

  • 6 GeekMBA360 // Aug 17, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    Thanks for reading my blogs! And thanks for your questions.

    I'll write a full-length post on your question regarding management consulting. I'll get it done in a few days.

    Here are my short answers:
    1) management consulting firms like McKinsey/Bain/BCG also have a reverse pyramid org structure. As you move up the ladder, it's basically “up or out”.

    2) comparing to investment banks, consulting firms have more humane, civilized work environment due to the nature of their work.

    3) McKinsey/Bain/BCG could be good entry-career for folks who're in their 20's. Those firms provide good business training. Consultants from these firms are well-spoke, smooth, and analytical. However, they lack solid operational experience and don't know how to run a real business.

    4) most consultants are interesting people. Again, due to the nature of their work, they need to be somewhat likable, polite, smooth, and communicative. Also, consultants travel a lot, and spend a lot of time outside their home offices. This helps make the office politics more tolerable comparing to i-banking.

    I'll stop here. Will write more on my post.

    let me know if you've any question.

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