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  • Christian Armbruester

Handshakes, Planes and Liar's Poker

Why the most trivial things can have the biggest impact on our lives.

It was Super-Saturday, and I woke up nervous. No, this wasn’t some obscure competition for whatever professional sports team I followed, this was Salomon Brothers the most famous investment bank of them all, the one that was featured in Liar's Poker (1989), and the only House on the Street for which I wanted to work. It had taken several rounds of interviews and a lot of “relationship building” all over town to get here. Breakfast with Associates at swanky restaurants, cocktails with Managing Directors in midtown and countless meetings with people from all over the bank.

I don’t really remember what drew me to Mergers & Acquisitions at the time. All we ever heard was how the Analysts and Associates worked 100 hours per week. In meeting some of them, I can confirm that all had rather large rings under their eyes. It takes at least three years of back-breaking, sometimes humiliating, and utterly exhausting work to climb up the ladder high enough, so as to be considered to become a Vice President. Then life begins, the big money rolls in and most of all, then you have your own staple of minions that can keep doing the heavy lifting for you.

So, there I was, primed to take my place amongst the other hopefuls who aspired for greater things, which is what they told us about, when they lined us up in the auditorium. More than a hundred students from around the world, all to have countless interviews with the hundreds of staff that were told to meet that morning on a Saturday in downtown Manhattan. It all went like clockwork. There were countless assistants ushering people from room to room and there was not a minute that went to waste before all had a chance to have their discussions. Then a final decision could be made as to who the bank would keep, or who was to be discarded once and for all.

Needless to say, I did not make it. The feedback I received was that one of the interviewers deemed me to have had a weak handshake. Apparently, that was all she wrote, and my dreams of a banking career were over. I sometimes wonder why I did not grip more firmly any of the dozen or so hands that were extended to me that day. The bank was acquired by Citigroup soon afterwards. Then there was a plane that flew into the World Trade Centre and destroyed the offices I would have been working in. Finally, after a series of financial scandals, the name of Salomon Brothers was dropped entirely in 2003, and the bank exists no more. I suppose with hindsight, things are always very clear and I did find a vocation with better hours.


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