Risk And Reward

The London Paper  –  4 Dec 2008

So, last week I was taken hostage by some paramilitaries in Africa. I was forcibly marched into an isolated hut on the edge of a clearing in the bush and then blindfolded and made to lie on my front with my hands tied behind my back. Twenty minutes later three helicopters landed nearby and a bunch of paratroopers began a deafening fire fight with my assailants. The soldiers then stormed my hut and my captors surrendered. I was bundled into a helicopter which immediately flew me to freedom. Lying powerless on the floor, unable to see and hearing only gunfire and angry shouting was one of the more scary experiences I’ve had to endure … even though I knew it was just an exercise and that the bullets were blanks.

It was a chance encounter with some British army boys who were training the local soldiers whilst I was on holiday in Kenya that had resulted in me finding myself in this rather unusual situation. They needed a ‘hostage’ and I apparently fitted the bill perfectly (e.g. I looked easily scared and unable to fight my way out of a paper bag). Whilst I’ve never believed in the supposed glory of warfare the whole experience was exhilarating and I came out of it with renewed respect for soldiers. I mean, if I was pleased I’d packed my brown pants even though I knew only blanks were being used, just imagine the fear that the soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq have to endure.

This whole experience also made me reflect on one of the key arguments that is used to justify the high pay that City boys enjoy (or at least used to!) City boys often claim over a bottle or five of Krug that they’re worth their huge salaries because their jobs are ‘high risk’. The ‘hire and fire’ City workplace means they’ve little job security and City boys themselves take major gambles involving vast sums of cash. Hence, so the argument goes, they’re worth every penny.

However, this conclusion is clearly utter nonsense! Firstly, there are very few ‘jobs for life’ in post-Thatcherite Britain apart from the odd public sector position. Secondly, soldiers, policemen, firemen and others take big risks too and if they screw up they don’t just lose their bank a few million quid; they might lose their lives.

I don’t take any pleasure in the job losses that are cutting a swathe through my former peers in the City. But we have to accept that we coined it when the good time rolled – as they have done for most of the last decade. The theoretical ‘riskiness’ of our career helped justify those fat pay packets so let’s not bemoan our lot too loudly when those risks manifest themselves in big job cuts … especially when there are people out there risking their lives daily and getting paid less in a year than I did in a month.

PS I will be signing copies of ’50 Ways To Survive The Crunch’ and ‘Cityboy’ at Waterstones on London Wall at 12.30-1.30 on Tuesday and Waterstone’s in Leadenhall Market at 12.30-1.30 on Wednesday and Waterstones at Jubilee Place, Canary Wharf at 12.30-1.30 on Friday next week.

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