The London Paper – 20 Aug 2007
‘Why are you such a fat bastard?’ said the posh salesman to the barrow-boy trader, who admittedly did look like he’d been on the notoriously unsuccessful ‘all pie diet’. The recipient of this rather innocuous insult slowly swung around in his seat and with perfect comic timing delivered the oft-used but still classic response: ‘Because every time I shag your wife she gives me a biscuit’.
Whilst Bill Shakespeare or Oscar Wilde may not have viewed this exchange as sufficiently witty to include in their more sophisticated works it got the surrounding traders guffawing and that, quite simply, was all that mattered. The salesman blushed, mumbled some unheard response and then tried to laugh along in a nervous half-hearted fashion – but he knew he’d had his arse whipped publicly.
When I first entered the City and people asked me what the principal skills required on the trading floor were I used to say: analytical ability, diligence and, of course, a ruthlessness Chairman Mao would have been proud of. After over a decade in this game I can say with my hand on my heart that it is, in fact, quick-witted playground banter that wins friends and influences people.
For analysts like me gaining the respect of the salesmen and traders is vital because they will only trust you if they think you can handle pressure – which they’ll never do if they’ve seen you crumble under a verbal onslaught. Although a well-timed ‘your mum’ joke when surrounded by a bunch of Essex boy traders may not be the perfect indicator of your prowess under pressure it’s better than most.
Hence, we must pity the spoddy geek who has a great analytical brain but blushes and stutters at the drop of a hat. Salesmen and traders alike will assume he’s a pointless loser who should write notes and emails – and let me tell you, I didn’t get where I am today writing notes and emails. Oh no, I achieved my tremendous success through the far more important skill of repeating tedious clichéd comebacks in a superficially confident way – as one colleague found to his cost the other day:
Colleague: You’re talking big now but you wait till we’re on the golf course
Cityboy: Son, if you even dream you beat me, you better wake up and apologise
Colleague: Actually, I’m waiting for you to apologise
Cityboy: OK, you go check the temperature in Hell then come back to me
Colleague: You little prick
Cityboy: Don’t believe everything your sister says … etc etc
Indeed, such is my verbal dexterity that I’m considering teaching a course at Oxford University entitled ‘How to be pompous and belittle ones peers’. Unfortunately, my academic contacts have informed there’s absolutely no need.
My advice to anyone going into the City is to put away those financial theory books and instead hone up your piss-taking skills. That’s because my experience to date suggests unequivocally that whilst you can take the stockbroker out of the playground (unless they’re pals of Gary Glitter) you most certainly cannot take the playground out of the stockbroker.