The London Paper – 26 June 2009
Last week an awards ritual took place that for 12 sorry years used to dominate my sick and twisted life. Most of you have probably never heard of the annual Thomson Reuters Extel awards ceremony but it is known in the Square Mile as the ‘Oscars of the City’. Essentially all ‘the clients’, that’s to say the dribbling fools who run your ISA or pension fund that stockbrokers like me used to lie to day in day out, vote for who is the best analyst in their specific industry sector. In theory, they vote for the smartest chap who’s going to make the best stock calls … the reality, of course, is a little more complicated.
This hideous ceremony takes place every year and involves about 200 stockbrokers gathering in a vast room in the Guildhall to eat insipid food and listen to appalling speeches prior to the results being announced. This year, for the ninth time in a row, it was those gnomes from UBS who won the overall prize for being top research house and I’d bet my last dollar their expense budget took a serious hammering to achieve that. That’s because when the fund managers at places like the Prudential or Fidelity fill in their voting forms the lucky winners tend to be those who took said client out on the razzle to a Michelin starred restaurant and then a high-class strip joint. I know this because, for my sins, that’s how I became the number four ranked analyst in my sector and interestingly it was the ‘status’ resulting from that ranking that resulted in certain banks foolishly deciding to pay me a disgustingly huge amount of money. It wasn’t my ability, knowledge or hard work – it was simply a product of my resilient liver and intestines.
When any client is debating about who to vote for they generally have a simple choice: the diligent boring buffoon who could compose wonderful spreadsheets and write the odd vaguely interesting research note or the bloke who didn’t know that much but sure knew how to order a bottle or seven of Chateauneuf du Pape at Quaglino’s and never had a problem barging his way into Stringfellows at 1.30am. Whilst the conscientious character slaving away every night until 10pm trying to analyze the 2014 cash-flow from some tedious company’s minor sub-division might occasionally win friends and influence people the smart money’s got to be on the vaguely charismatic piss-head who knows where to buy the best foie gras.
What my experience of these surveys taught me is that every industry, by definition, involves human beings and so long as that is the case then the opinions of the voters can be manipulated through the unholy trinity of drink, food and sex. That is what I built my career success on and, unfortunately, I have no doubt that many others have done exactly the same whether they worked in film, music, art or literature.
So, whenever someone wins an award of any kind you’ve got to ask yourself one question: just how many arses did that person kiss and how many drinks did he have to buy to gain that honour? I hate to just be another cynical shyster but nothing in my City career ever dissuaded me of the view that most accolades are simply the result of strategic schmoozing and cynical networking.