RFP: Diary of an institutional salesman, part 12

Will gets an earful about how small is beautiful.

Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. In this particular war – fought in the boardrooms and trading floors across the region – the no-man’s lands are the bars and coffee shops of the top hotels in each city.

This evening, I’ve been invited to the Chinnery Bar by Herbert Wu, the sales director of Yatyisam Capital. God knows how he got my number, but it’s a Thursday night and there’s nothing else on, so I’m sitting at the bar, doodling away on my iPad and hoping he won’t keep me too late.

Yatyisam is a small local player. They have made their name by ‘keeping things simple’, and sticking to just one, two or maybe three products. Wow, Herbert’s job must be really boring. This is no doubt why he wants to catch up with me – he’s looking for a job working for me at Integrity.

This is understandable – any salesman would love to have the array of products I have at my disposal. At any point in time, there will be at least a handful in the top decile. There’s always something hot to sell, and the beautiful thing is that you never know in advance what that might be next month! It really keeps us on our toes.

In short, you’d have to be pretty desperate to work for such a small shop. It pays less, there are fewer career prospects, you’re more vulnerable to key-man departures, you don’t get to travel very much, nobody who matters will ever have heard of the firm, and it’s probably controlled by some crazed tycoon or egomaniac.

You’ve inevitably got fewer resources, so you’ll end up making your own coffee and doing your own photocopying! I haven’t been near the photocopy room in years, thanks to Colinna, who seems to spend hours in there. Yes, all in all, life at Yatyisam must be quite depressing for poor Herbert.

I’ve got a seat by the bar and he walks in and greets me like an old friend. It’s a G&T for me, of course, while Herbert opts for a beer. The small talk ensues, both of us alluding to the last big deal and, with a knowing nod, the next big deal. I mention that we are looking to hire someone, essentially a replacement for my old role now that I have moved up to fill Jeff’s shoes. Herbert seems non-plussed and keeps talking up Yatyisam, where he has just been made a partner, apparently.

Dear diary, the evening couldn’t end soon enough. But it brought to mind a few cruel observations. Herbert spooned it out like a management guru.

“Yatyisam is very focused, and is able to do a few simple things very well.”

There is a huge risk in this, being pigeon-holed as a one-trick pony. And what happens when those few correlated strategies are underperforming, or when your chosen markets crash and everyone wants out, regardless? Sayonara, sunshine.

“Yatyisam partners and associates control their own destiny and the direction of the firm.”

Yeah, sure they do. I get paid more each year and have a very straightforward task: sell as much as I can to anyone who wants it. If I screw up, I just try again next year. If Herbert (or any of his colleagues) screws up, the company goes bust. That’s a weighty responsibility, and he’s definitely not getting paid enough to take it. The markets control your destiny, pal. Lady Luck.

“Yatyisam partners own the firm and benefit directly from the revenues generated.”

See above. And think again about the downsides, which far outweigh these benefits.

“Yatyisam is a nimble boutique, with conviction and flexibility.”

There it is, the dreaded B-word. Boutique. He’s so 2000! And late: nobody wants to hire boutiques any more. Way back, yes, the institutions loved these little one-man bands -- the alignments of interest, the illusion of control, that special feeling of being a cornerstone client.

Not so much these days. After the GFC took hold, those little boutiques were getting hit like Stevie Wonder in the boxing ring. In 2010, ‘boutique’ is just a pair of four-letter words. The half-decent ones get acquired by firms like Integrity. The others run out of cash. Nice knowing you.

“Working with Yatyisam is like being part of a close, friendly family.”

Working for Yatyisam means that you have to spend the first 10 minutes of virtually every conversation explaining who you are and what goes on there. On the other hand, simply being at a firm like Integrity opens doors, the quality already being assumed.

Herbert’s a nice enough guy. Maybe not the most ambitious type, but hey, you can’t have every dog in the pack running alpha. File Herbert under ‘H’… for harmless. Maybe we can be friends after all.

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