Thursday, April 24, 2008

THE BIG MOVE TO LA. What was I thinking?

I thought uprooting my life, moving 3,000 miles, meeting new friends (which I am TERRIBLE at) I thought it was all going to be a snap.

It hasn’t been. When I was in my early twenties – things were different. I don’t know, I could just MOVE. No worrries.
I had moved to Manhattan to work at Lazard Freres & Co., an international investment bank. I was to be one of six banking analysts in the mergers and acquisitions department. The partners quickly assigned me to the International Banking group – cross border deals – because of my diverse background.

Every other week, I'd push off to Dallas for a few days. A partner and I were taking a chemicals company public there (82% of profits came from polystyrene – like no one knew that styrofoam would become obsolete? Hello?).

I was then assigned to a deal in London: two partners and I were asked to fend off a hostile bid – a British shipping company, a Lazard client, had been hit by the monstrous Swedish shipping company, Stena AB. We were sent to run the defense. I hated defense work. It was so reactive – swerving and dodging bullets. We'd scramble for weeks to find the cash (or a friendly buyer) to top Stena's bid, the obvious way to woo shareholders. We'd just manage to raise the bid – after three grueling weeks. Stena would top it the following morning. No sweat for them, but it was back on the treadmill for us – always a losing battle. The pressure was excruciating before I found out the partners refused to get me taken off the Dallas deal. Lazard was weird that way; the firm hired only six analysts a year, while Goldman Sachs, First Boston and the other sweatshops would hire, literally, hundreds. We were perennially short-staffed. Analysts did everything from run the numbers to sometimes run meetings. No infrastructure, whatsoever. The partners liked it that way – fewer mouths to feed.

Life went something like this: Three days in London, two hours at Kennedy, one day in Dallas, a two-hour layover in Kennedy, four days in Stockholm, four hours at Heathrow, two hours in Newark, two days in Dallas. After a few months, I'd memorized every flight, the time each flight departed, which carriers sucked, which airlines had the best wine selection, which flights always had open seating in First Class.

I worked mostly for the man who headed up the international banking unit, Robert Agostinelli. I ran the numbers. He did the talking, seducing clients with his mesmerizing charm. He was a bean-counter from upstate New York done good. I think he'd even managed to marry French Aristocracy.

"Leverage up, Katie, Leverage up." That was his philosophy on life, he'd explain. I'm not sure I ever really understood what he meant. Often times the clients had no idea what he was talking about, either. They just loved him. And so did I.

We were quite a team – speeding around town in radio cars – cell phone to cell phone – planning the next 48 hours. I was his lackey – his flunky – doing all the shit work that no one else wanted to do.

We'd bemoan the workload, trash The Morons at Lazard, discuss the stupidity of our colleagues, and bust on clients. God, how we loved to insult them. We gave each client a different Code Name: The Idiots, The Dufflebags, The Dandruffettes, the Imbeciles, The Ignoramuses, The Dimwits, The Simpletons, to name a few. We'd use the Code Names instead of the company's name in elevators, on cell phones, in restaurants – because this merger business was so, so secretive. The firm had already had one insider trading scandal; it didn't need another. So everything was written about, and spoken about, in Code.

I'll never forget the silence that befell a meeting with Agostinelli, the top guns at a British steel company, and a pack of lawyers. There we sat, the Knights of the Roundtable. In front of each man lay a navy blue plastic covered dealbook, "Lazard Freres & Co." printed in gold on the bottom right corner. Ago (as I called him) began the infamous pitch, gesticulating madly with a Cuban cigar. As he demanded, everyone at the table turned to the first page: PROJECT NINCOMPOOP, read the title, in gigantic, bold, black capital letters. Ago shot me a look. I met his eyes. Whoooops. Short meeting. Ago didn't care. He knew I'd been working on about 45 minutes of sleep. There was a hell of a lot more business to nab. We fled the meeting and headed over to Blake's to split a bottle of Veuve Cliquot. They won. We lost. Next.

It was the eighties. We were just kids, jogging through airports in Ralph Lauren suits, dragging laptops, dealbooks, and The Wall Street Journal – usually unread. The work was grueling, detailed, anal, brutal. We were the analysts. Personnel called us The Resume Kids. I did it for the so-called glamour, Manhattan, and mostly because everyone else wanted the job. Twenty-one years old, earning $42,500. And that was before my $35,000 bonus that year; the firm had had a bang-up 1988.

My first day was exhilarating. Investment Banking. Wall Street. Wow.

But a few weeks after that first day, I'd find myself wandering around the office with the clothes I'd worn the day before. No food, except a little General Tao's chicken that some exhausted vice-president had left in the conference room. Sleep deprivation became a huge issue. Depression was a close second. Sometimes we'd sleep under our desks. Sometimes we'd order $200 of sushi at 2:30 a.m. and whoof it down with sixteen-ounce oil cans of Foster’s flanking our keyboards.

We'd blearily stare at spreadsheets, checking each other's work with HP-12C calculators. My office mate once ended a 48-hour marathon by hurling a Toshiba laptop into the window. The window exploded. The laptop bounced on the carpet. Despite the $8,200 bill, he didn't get fired. The partners understood. It was laborious drudgery. They'd been there.

Cut to the Sunday before Thanksgiving. The London-based General Electric Company makes a hostile bid for a Lazard client. The client wants to fight. The phone rings. "Katie, it's work," says my sleepy roommate. It's the partner who heads up the Investment Banking unit, he so much reminded me of Frankenstein.

Sorry to phone so early but, a big client has been hit, can I go to London with two partners and a VP for a few weeks to run the defense? We chose you because of your strengths (right), your brilliance (barf), your work ethic (yeah, right). It should be quick, Katie. (sure). If we scared them off, I could be home in four days for Thanksgiving. Terrific. Thanks for helping out. By the way, could I leave for the airport in about an hour? The 9:00 a.m. Bullet. I'll get Kathy (his abused secretary) to call you in a ticket. Concorde (bribe) waiting for you at the counter. We know you'll do a great job. Yeah. It's tough – Thanksgiving and all. Thanks a lot, though, kid.

I stuff a few suits in my hanging bag and whoosh, I'm off. Car service. Concorde. Taxi. I move into Claridges. Every morning at 7:00 a.m., a car picks me up and takes me to work. I'd return to the hotel every night at 10:45 (15 minutes before Room Service quit). As the gentleman behind the desk handed me my messages, I'd nod and smile: The Usual. Fifteen minutes later I'd hear a knock. Dinner: Salmon mousse with aspic and a bottle of 1985 Meurseault.

Each night, every night, for five months.

Sometime in late April, I saw the Manhattan skyline, stepped into my apartment with five British Airways cardboard boxes full of the clothes I'd bought at Harrod's – on Lazard (my secretary Fed-Exed me Donna Karan stockings). Eleven milk cartons of mail met me at the door, plus five months of telephone messages. Two of my four roommates had moved out. I said hello to the two replacements. They nodded. The damage at Claridge's had been about seventy grand.

Thanksgiving? Be home for Thanksgiving? Hell, I didn't even catch Easter, not to mention Christmas.

Why was it so easy back then? Why is it so difficult now – maybe we get more set in our ways? But lets just say I’m lonely out here. It’s self-inflicted, of course. The people I’ve met in LA are lovely. Perhaps I’ve just lost the inability to reach out.

Stay tuned.

1 comment:

BocaGirl007 said...

Kate, your fabulous. I have you on my 'favorites' so I read your blog from time to time...How did you get to be so interesting?? You have done so much, yet, your this down to earth, wonderful person. Boca misses u sweetie. I'm sure things will get easier as time passes out in LA.