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Friday, January 8, 2010

The Legacy of the Leveraged Sell Out or why Bankers are Funnier than Consultants

There were many legacies of the 2004-2007 bubble era that look anachronistic today, such as Alan Greenspan's reputation as a genius, the idea of flipping condos for a living as opposed to burgers, and more than 5 Real Estate majors graduating from business schools. Consulting and Investment Banking were still the largest source of job offers for business school graduates (even though they were losing the battle of prestige to hedge funds and Google). Two websites represented those 20th century modern day business professions (which replaced the typical 19th century business profession of being an industrial baron) who strove to maintain their prestigious trappings and culture as the top destinations for MBA graduates.

Gettingdrunkinfirstclass.com or GDIFC carried the torch for consulting and portrayed its consultants as lords of the airways whose magic tongues enabled them to convince clients that their advice was worth its weight in 2010 priced gold. According to GDIFC, consultants were so glib, sophisticated and compelling while they whispered into CEO's ears that they could spend most of their time in debaucherous celebration that would be expensed back to the spellbound client. Like the website, this image of consulting has been defunct for some time. In reality, consultants only rule the airports WiFi systems in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. At the client site, the days is spent with reams of data and dinners are inhaled at restaurants that are still open at 10:00. While presenting, consultants struggle not to use the word "value add" to describe their power pointed recommendations in order to justify their carefully scrutinized billed expenses.

On the other hand, the Leveraged Sell-Out or LSO describes the actual work of investment bankers with a frightening level of accuracy from the pitch books to the Excel models. The genius comes from the parodies of the banker culture, prestige and rankings of everything from colleges to credit cards, and most poetic dialogue this side of Quentin Tarantino. The comments section on the site which was mothballed in November 2008 (but still preserved in time) reinforce the parody and accuracy. LSO also won the ultimate blog prize by spawning a book, called Damn it Feels Good to be a Banker.

I had avoided ordering the book due to fear that it would be a recycling of the website or the best material had already been written. However, after finishing my Economist on Monday and faced with nothing left to read for a week, I made the plunge and bought it. Since it arrived, I've read it twice due to the sheer poetry of the writing. Excel spreadsheet terminology is used to explain the planning of a night out. Clothing is described with such detail that I can visualize the triple pleats of consultant's khakis that were purchased at a Piscataway New Jersey Mall Banana Republic with a gift card. I also learned more about banking and how to measure firms by prestige than I could ever possibly want to know. I almost started using the term so Piper Jaffray-ish to describe the Chicago Bears defense this year.

While I both learned and laughed a lot about banking from the book and website, I would only cautiously recommend it to non-traditional MBA students. If a reader doesn't realize that the most elitist statements are intended to be a complete parody, the humor will make someone really angry. The humor is also from the bygone bubble era of 2004-2007 and may not travel well in this day and age. For those who are ready to keep an open mind and want a good laugh, I highly recommend the book.

Full disclosure: I've read that Damn it Feels Good to be a Banker is actually written by a strategy consultant.

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