"Some chick asked me what I would do with 10 million bucks. I told her I'd wonder where the rest of my money went." (@GSElevator)
Over the past three years, the notorious @GSElevator Twitter feed has offered a hilarious, shamelessly voyeuristic look into the real world of international finance. Hundreds of thousands followed the account, Goldman Sachs launched an internal investigation, and when the true identity of the man behind it all was revealed, it created a national media sensation—but that's only part of the story.
Where @GSElevator captured the essence of the banking elite with curated jokes and submissions overheard by readers, Straight to Hell adds John LeFevre's own story—an unapologetic and darkly funny account of a career as a globe-conquering investment banker spanning New York, London, and Hong Kong. Straight to Hell pulls back the curtain on a world that is both hated and envied, taking listeners from the trading floors and roadshows to private planes and after-hours overindulgence. Full of shocking lawlessness, boyish antics, and win-at-all-costs schemes, this is the definitive take on the deviant, dysfunctional, and absolutely excessive world of finance.
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About the Author
John LeFevre has enjoyed a distinguished career in international finance. He joined Salomon Brothers immediately out of college and worked in New York, London, and Hong Kong. In 2010 he was hired by Goldman Sachs to be head of debt syndicate in Asia, a position that he eventually did not take due to a contractual issue. He is a regular contributor to Business Insider and has been interviewed by the New York Times, CNN, the Financial Times, and other outlets.
Read an Excerpt
Windows on the World
"Excuse me, another round of Bloodys, please?"
It's August 2001, and I'm hanging out at Windows on the World, at the top of Tower One of the World Trade Center, with a few of my fellow new analyst classmates. It's only 9:30 a.m., but we don't really care. Most of my drinking companions are either European or well connected; everyone else is far too cautious to skip out on training. They're all across the street in the auditorium of 7 World Trade, diligently taking notes about financial accounting, bond math, or whatever.
I'm not worried about skipping class; I was there first thing to put my name on the sign-in sheet, and I've got a promise from a friendly classmate that he'll text me if there's any kind of impromptu roll call. So far, that text hasn't come, but I keep a pack of Marlboro Lights in my pocket just in case I need an alibi for the time it takes me to make it down two elevators and back across the street.
Besides, it should be time to celebrate. We've made it. Wall Street, the pinnacle, some might argue, for any ambitious and accomplished college graduate looking to enter the workforce. I don't recall the precise statistics, but we're reminded on a daily basis how fortunate we are — the firm received something like 25,000 applications for roughly 350 spots globally.
Gazing out the window on the 107th floor, I feel confident, even invincible. It wasn't always that way. During my interview with Lazard Frères, a prestigious boutique investment bank and one of the last true partnerships on Wall Street, I almost passed out from vertigo staring out the window from the mere fifty-seventh floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Then, after a final-round interview superday with Bear Stearns, I inadvertently sent a thank-you email to the head of emerging markets, telling him how much I wanted to work for JPMorgan. During a Goldman Sachs interview, some asshole asked me who, living or dead, I would most like to have dinner with. I guess he wasn't particularly impressed that I named Tupac Shakur ahead of Marcus Aurelius or Alexander Hamilton. Still, despite these hiccups, in the end, I wanted to do fixed income, and for that, there was arguably no better place to be than Salomon Brothers, with the recently added platform and balance sheet of Citigroup behind it.
There's only one slight problem: my analyst class is the largest in the history of investment banking. We were hired based on quotas set in mid- 2000, before it was evident that the dot-com party was over. Nowhere is this more painfully clear than in the European TMT team (telecom, media, and technology), which hired forty first-year analysts. On the first day of training, those analysts were informed that there were now only seven available spots, leaving them scrambling to find a new team before the end of training or be out of a job.
With the exception on TMT, most analysts aren't assigned or invited to join a specific team until near the end of training. Having received an offer after my internship in debt capital markets the previous summer, I already know I have a bid from that group if I want it. But for most of the analysts, the real competition is just beginning. It turns out that landing a coveted Wall Street job isn't the finish line; it's the starting block. You wouldn't know it looking at the flushed faces around our table at Windows on the World, surrounded by Brooklyn Lager empties and half-chewed celery sticks.
Later that afternoon, we are given the first of many ominous warnings.
"Let this be a reminder to all of you. Not only are you required to attend all training sessions, you are expected to act in a professional manner and take them seriously. Additionally, next Tuesday, we will have our first exam — accounting. In all likelihood, the bottom 10% will be let go."
A posh-sounding British kid, one of my drinking buddies, raises his hand. "But I studied classics at Oxford? This doesn't seem fair." Apparently, it's not all shits and giggles.
"What do you think the training is for? I'm sure you'll do fine."
This doesn't faze me at all; I studied finance and economics. Other than learning how to use Excel without a mouse, I don't really need the training.
It turns out that HR is not bluffing. The day after the first exam, the results are posted on two large bulletin boards in the back of the auditorium. In a lazy attempt at privacy, one board lists each person's name along with a random numerical code next to it. The second board has each person's code listed in numerical order with their exam result next to it.
Obviously, the first thing everybody does is look up their own scores — I passed with flying colors. After that, we all spend the next ten minutes indiscreetly running back and forth between the two boards gossiping and checking the results of our friends and adversaries. HR makes no attempt to provide summary statistics or clarity on the results, leaving those who had not fared well to fester in uncertainty while awaiting formal confirmation of their fate. That night, the bottom 10% is notified with a simple note under the door of their temporary corporate housing apartments. We are all a bit envious of the people who no longer have a roommate.
There's a certain nonchalance and indifference about the firm's approach to this process that we all find both disconcerting and thrilling. The next week, it happens again after the financial math exam. Same drill — the bottom 10% is let go. Again, I have nothing to worry about. There's blood in the water now, and I have to admit, the process is somewhat exhilarating.
I do feel bad for some of these kids. I just hope they saved their Barneys receipts. Pathetically, one kid even tries selling his new watch before he leaves town. But what the fuck am I going to do with a Movado?
With the exams out of the way, and the deadweight gone, everything settles down as the emphasis of training shifts to things like PowerPoint, Excel, financial modeling, and presentation skills. We are each assigned a cubicle on a spare floor in 7 World Trade to work on group projects and individual homework assignments.
The homework assignments are a joke. Five minutes before class, I'll jump on my computer, go to the shared drive, and find a copy of someone else's completed assignment. With a name change and a quick scan of the document to make sure the answers are sensible, I print it out and head off to class. Many of the kids in my class, particularly the ones I associate with, do this as well.
One day, our HR point person steps up in front of us in the auditorium. "I'd just like to inform you that we've had to let go eight of your classmates for copying homework assignments."
A few of my classmates — many of whom wouldn't last — look at each other, appalled that anyone could be capable of cheating, while the rest of us look at each other in relief that we hadn't also been caught, highlighting the age-old battle between the front-of-the-class and the back- of-the-class mentalities.
From that day forward, I am more careful. Instead of five minutes before class, I'll come in ten minutes early. Then I'll add my own personal touch on the formatting, rephrase some of the answers, and even make a couple of intentionally unique mistakes.
Again, within a week, four more people are fired for stealing homework. This time, it turns out that some of our more spiteful classmates had started sabotaging files in the drive, even creating fake files with all incorrect answers. As we see it, if you're dumb enough to get caught cheating, you probably don't belong on Wall Street.
We celebrate by skipping training the following day for a liquid breakfast up in the sky followed by lunch at Peter Luger.
After that, things start to settle down again. HR reassures us that, barring any further disciplinary issues, all the cuts have been made. The rest of training is spent rather uneventfully in the auditorium or, for a select group of us, across the street. Our evenings are spent doing team-building exercises, bowling at Lucky Strike, and getting drunk on Hudson River cruises. I'm not one for name tags and meet and greets, but there is certainly a business case to be made for getting to know all the kids in my class.
For the final day of training, the firm puts on a celebratory pep rally in the auditorium of 388 Greenwich Street. Bigwigs like Mark Simonian (global head of TMT), Sir Deryck Maughan (chairman and former CEO of Salomon Brothers), Michael Klein (head of investment banking), and Tom Maheras (head of fixed income) each deliver rousing speeches about how there's no firm in the world they'd rather work for and no better place for us to start our careers.
Now we feel like we've made it — all 272 of us who remain. Having arrived late, I'm stuck in the back with a middle seat that will make it impossible to slip out unnoticed. Shortly after we begin, a kid I sort of know a few rows in front of me gets up and tries to make an exit. Man, he's got balls. Mid-speech, he's shuffling across, forcing people to stand up in order to make way for him to pass.
"Excuse me. Sorry. Pardon me." It's like being in a movie theater except that the room is fully lit, and he's interrupting a Master of the Universe who is busy onstage talking about his favorite thing — himself.
Ten minutes later, the kid walks back down the aisle of the auditorium. This time, he looks red-faced and teary-eyed. "Excuse. Sorry. Pardon me," he repeats over and over as he makes his way back to his seat. Holy shit, did his mom just die? What the fuck happened? Once he gets to his seat, instead of sitting, he reaches down, grabs his signature Salomon Smith Barney blue-and-green canvas duffel bag, and turns back around. His blotchy red face turns completely scarlet and the puffy eyes unload a waterfall of tears. "Excuse me. Sorry. Pard — ah — ah uh ah uh." He can't even get the words out without whimpering. His efforts to muffle the sound of his sobbing almost make him hyperventilate. It's disgusting. And then, just like that, he's gone.
Meanwhile, onstage, Sir Deryck Maughan is wrapping up his speech. "Congratulations on being a member of the analyst class of 2001, the most qualified class in our storied history."
Five minutes later, another analyst gets up and walks out. A few minutes pass, and then she comes back, collects her purse and canvas bag, and leaves, looking rather more stoic than the first guy, but still stunned. Now a few people in the back are starting to suspect something is quite obviously wrong. As she walks out, from my vantage point, I can see her mouth to a friend, "I just got fired." Most people from the middle of the room forward are still unaware of what's happening behind them.
Five minutes later, another guy gets up and starts to walk out. He doesn't appear to realize that he's about to get shit-canned. Someone from the back shouts out, "Dude, just bring your stuff with you," which is good for more than a few laughs.
Finally, between the disruption and the whispers working their way around the room, people start to figure out what's happening. An Asian girl sitting next to me, whom I had never spoken to before, says, "Shit. I got a notice under my door to see HR this morning at ten fifteen a.m. That's in ten minutes. I assumed it was regarding the team I would be assigned to. But clearly not." And with that, she gets up, says, "It's been real, y'all," to no one in particular, and walks out.
Confirmation of the news, and the meaning of the HR notices, has now spread across the entire analyst class. At this point, all the people who had received an HR notice get up and start walking out.
Back onstage, Michael Klein doesn't skip a beat. He assures us that we can all be just like him one day.
I later find out that the first kid who got fired begged HR to go back into the auditorium to collect his bag for him and spare him the tearful walk of shame. They refused. No worries; I hear he's a successful broker now.CHAPTER 2
A Felonious Mentality
"You may have escaped from this situation unscathed, but in my eyes, you are nothing but a weasel." My adviser, Mr. Cobb, has just burst into my dorm room to share this uplifting gem with me.
He looks at me (my head studiously buried in a textbook), glances over at my stereo (classical music playing softly), and then just rolls his eyes. Had I not been fourteen years old, he probably would have made the jerk-off hand motion.
In all fairness, his presumption isn't too far off. Just two minutes earlier, I had recognized the sound of his not insubstantial weight coming up the stairs, quickly turned off the game of Maelstrom I was playing on my McIntosh, flipped open my chemistry book, and switched from Dr. Dre's The Chronic to the Vivaldi's Four Seasons CD I stole from my mom.
"Mr. Cobb, coming from you, I think I'll take that as a compliment."
Fuck him. As my fourth form (tenth grade) adviser, he's supposed to be my ally, my father figure away from home, the guy in my corner, and a guiding presence during these crucial, character-building early teenage years. Instead, he has looked for every opportunity to pick me off. And at this point, there's nothing I can do to change his opinion of me.
I've just experienced my first major run-in with the Choate Rosemary Hall authorities. Coming back from class a few days earlier, I had decided to grab a seat in the dormitory common room and hang out with some friends. The chair I chose immediately collapsed from my rather underwhelming weight. I looked down to discover that someone had broken off the leg and then reattached it in a way that made it appear structurally sound; it was a booby trap.
Admittedly, my reaction was rather juvenile. I picked up the chair and repeatedly smashed it into the ground until it splintered and broke apart, leaving the room strewn with shards of jagged wood and pieces of foamy cushion.
That night, at our weekly dorm meeting, our housemaster, Mr. Gadua (whom we had nicknamed "The Gimp"), inquired about the broken chair. "I need the person who broke the chair to come forward." Of course, no one said a word.
The next day, I received a meeting request from my dean; someone must have ratted me out. I'm getting sent before the judicial committee. Not only am I facing a charge for breaking the chair, I'm also accused of a much more serious honor code violation for lying to The Gimp. Boarding schools tend to get sanctimonious and self-righteous when it comes to issues of honor.
My first instinct was to argue that I broke the chair in order to prevent other people from being injured. But that wouldn't absolve me from the honor code violation. So I decided to keep my argument simple. "In my mind, as it relates to a chair, it is impossible to break something that is already broken. So when The Gimp asked us about the chair, I did not step forward, because I genuinely do not know who broke the chair." Case dismissed.
Even at this impressionable age, I knew that I wanted to go to Wall Street. I had never really enjoyed obeying authority figures, especially the idiotic ones like Mr. Cobb or The Gimp. Besides the influence of watching the movie Wall Street on basic cable and reading Liar's Poker (and then Den of Thieves,The Predator's Ball, and Barbarians at the Gate), my fascination with Wall Street really crystallized during my first year at boarding school. I became captivated by financial markets, the men who mastered them, and the tangible benefits that came with it.
This was only reinforced when all the parents came down from places like Greenwich for parents' weekend. The Wall Street dads were the cool dads with the sports cars and a propensity for profanity. They'd tell our dean we were spending the weekend with them in Connecticut, only to let us disappear into New York City, where we'd take down a suite at the Waldorf Astoria and use the concierge desk to get us into places like Scores and Au Bar. This is when I internalized the number one rule of life: "Rules are for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men."
From my experience, Wall Street generally attracts people with a certain mentality. It then takes those people, breaks them down, and molds them to suit its singular purpose — making money. Priorities are relative. Concepts of wealth are relative. Expectations and standards of hard work and intelligence are relative. Morality and deviance are relative. Wall Street operates in its own reality. Assimilate or die.
In its own way, boarding school was great preparation for investment banking. Not only were the Wall Street dads different, so were their kids. They had a much more evolved perspective, at a much earlier age, than the rest of us — a certain confidence, a kill-or-be-killed mind-set, even a felonious streak when it came to authority. They were the kids in the dorms who somehow managed to get a doctor's note that allowed them to have a refrigerator in their room. (It turns out every investment banker knows at least one doctor who owes him a favor. Where else were we supposed to get the Ritalin?) Their parents not only let them break rules they didn't think should apply to them, but encouraged and abetted them. Boarding students can't have cars on campus? No problem, just keep it in the parking lot at the public library in town. Students aren't allowed to have cell phones (it's the mid-1990s)? Be smart; just don't get caught. Let scholarship kids, or worse, do-gooder types follow the rules. Then come talk to me in twenty years.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Straight To Hell"
Copyright © 2015 John LeFevre.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Author's Note ix
Windows on the World 5
A Felonious Mentality 15
Ode to Liar's Poker 27
The Parental Visit 39
The Handover 53
I'll Call You on Your Cell 67
Carpet or Cock 95
The Roadshow 107
The Wild Wild East 119
The Lunch Break 143
The Warren Buffett of Shanghai 161
The Stakeout 187
Princelings and Dumplings 199
The First Day of School 213
Because They Are Muppets 225
The Minibar 243
Conference Call Etiquette 249
Letting the Bad Out 263
A Long Day 291
Making It Rain 303