'It was the most difficult decision that I have had to make in my twenty three-year career in the financial markets. The screw had tightened so much that I had to lose more heads (this would be the third round of cuts).
And my boss (the global head of fixed income) told me that one of the two most expensive members of my team would have to be included in the latest cull. At least he had the decency of giving me the choice about which one to keep. The trouble was, one was my best trader, and the other was my best friend.
I hired Gary from Deutsche Bank over three years ago and, until the credit crunch started to bite, he had consistently shown an ability to generate excellent returns, respected his limits, got on with the folks in compliance and risk and, unlike many pulling in multi-million bonuses, proved to be a thoroughly decent man who never once threw his not-inconsiderable weight around.
And then there was Jimmy. We'd been together at no less than four firms, and had worked in close proximity for almost 15 years. He is seven years my senior in terms of age. In fact, he was MY boss at Citi a few years back, before losing his job in the last downturn. I brought him over here around 5 years ago, at a time when many thought his best days were behind him. Although a cautious trader who tends to follow rather than lead, Jimmy can always be relied on to bring in acceptable returns. He is always the first on the trading floor, and the last to leave. Although many of the younger traders think that he is a bit of a dinosaur, they always come to him for advise when they get into trouble - both personally and professionally.
I go out with Jimmy most nights after work for a quick drink, he is Godfather to one of my kids, and the other is named after him. Before his divorce, both families would see each other most weekends. Even now, as Jimmy continues to rebuild his life, he often calls around to play with the kids and hang out. In short, he is my friend, and I love him.
Jimmy knew that I was coming under pressure to reduce headcount again. And although I never told him that he was in the firing line, he graciously told me that I should discount our friendship when looking at ways to save on costs. He said that, but I could see from his eyes that he was scared. Scared that, if he got laid-off now, that this would be the end. Now just over 50, and without a sponsor, he knew that it would be almost impossible to get back in another job, especially given the current state of the fixed income market.
And then there was Gary. 15 years younger than Jimmy, he no more deserved to be let go. Although we had no personal history, he was in many ways a model employee. And, when the markets returned to something like normal, Gary would make us sack loads of money, just like he had done in the past.
I agonised over this decision for days. I lost my appetite, and couldn't sleep. One minute I resolved that, from a business perspective, Jimmy had to walk. Then our personal relationship would pull at my heartstrings, and it would quickly be Gary who would be leaving - after all, he had a more stable personal situation, was financially more secure, and was so much younger that he would eventually return to the market and rebuild his career.
In the end, I knew that I just couldn't make the decision. I was just too conflicted. So I determined to discuss the matter with my wife. She was always the more pragmatic one of us. Although I rarely brought my work home, and hardly ever discussed things like this with her, she quickly understood my dilemma. And although she was attached to Jimmy too, she thought that I had no choice but to put the needs of the business ahead of my own personal need to do the right thing by him - even if that risked losing his valued friendship. I knew right then what I had to do. Just one more troubled night, and I would go into work and deliver the blow.
I got in early the next day, and called him into the office. Just 5 minutes later, GARY was clearing his desk, leaving his security pass and heading out of the building for the last time. What the f.ck does my wife know about trading anyway ?'.
1. 'Never has it been highlighted so clearly - when it comes to people, management or business, what the f.ck do traders know ?!'.
2. 'The usual old story - not what you know, but who you know!'.
3. 'The interesting thing about this story (other than the fact that the guy took a decision that was in his own best interests, rather than his shareholders'), is the statement 'my boss told me that one of the two most expensive members of my team would have to be included in the cull'. Although this is common practice throughout the financial markets, the reality is that both Jimmy and Gary would probably rather get a low (or zero) bonus, rather than the boot. I have seen several folks 'zero'd' over the years. Some storm out, and some are disruptive. But many are philosophical about it and remain professional - and ended up being paid out well a year or so later anyway'.