Sorry for leaving you hanging, dear diary, but my account of that fateful afternoon, as I entered the office of my boss Kim to receive my rainmaker’s bonus, was cut short by a call from my young assistant, April, asking me whether her earlobes would look better in Tiffany diamonds or Van Cleef & Arpels sapphires.
The implications of such a question on my credit card, not to mention this budding but still immature relationship, required a long digression with the lady in question.
So now, back to me.
Kim made it clear that our meeting had nothing to do with my bonus. Nor did it regard my affair with April (and wait until I find out who spilled the beans about that!). Instead, he opened with words that I knew meant I must put aside all personal considerations, and focus 100% on supporting my company, Integrity Asset Management:
“The O’Dores situation as worsened.”
It is true, dear diary, that you have not heard me discuss the O’Dores situation, because, as I inform all of our clients making any inquiry, it is not a material issue.
Which was true until now.
Yes, it’s that O’Dores: Paddy O’Dores, the famous Irish property tycoon who, after a sneaky exit from Dublin real estate at its peak, turned his hand to ‘activist investing’, bringing a reputation for aggressive interference to his target companies. His holding company had been building a stake in Integrity shares over the past year or so, and the previous day O’Dores had stormed the AGM and ousted our chairman and CEO from office.
As if this threat alone was not bad enough, he also announced his intention to merge Integrity with his other asset-management business, none other than our arch rival Swiss Heritage, which he had bought from the troubled banking parent back in ’08.
Kim tells me he is going to tell the office soon. I have a few valuable minutes to prepare a response to settle the troops, to calm any nerves and to help build a response to the inevitable client questions.
Naturally when the going gets tough, the tough call their headhunter.
I speed-dial Mimi Yip, the best little headhunter in town, to book her in for an early evening drinkie. She already knows! That shows just how good she is, I assure myself, AND she seems to like me! I’ve got nothing to worry about.
The future doesn’t look quite so bright for my colleagues, however. Swiss Heritage Asset Management (they don’t use the acronym) has a big presence in Europe and here in Asia. Integrity has a big presence in our home US market and also in Asia, mainly thanks to a certain William T. Fitzgerald’s efforts in recent years.
So the ‘synergistic opportunities’ O’Dores refers to would imply some of my workmates in this part of the world becoming surplus to requirements, PDQ – pretty damned quick.
Chaos befalls the office. Everybody knows that 1+1 does not equal 2 in this game, especially when both sides have a decent share of the same market. Just look at BluePebble, now one of the biggest players in the world. After the monster merger two years ago, many big institutional investors felt they had to make redemptions, citing the need to reduce single-manager exposure as the main reason. And I saw résumés from 60% of their workforce that year.
I have to applaud Kim for waiting until late afternoon to make the announcement – people were never going to do much work after hearing that news.
First come the calls from the consultants. Clearly tipped off by their more clued-in European and US colleagues, they ask the obvious questions and give no indication of what they will be saying to our clients.
Perhaps we should call the clients before they do? Is attack really the best form of defence? When we have spent the past few months telling them they have nothing to worry about, wouldn’t it then seem over-reactive to place those calls? I think it would, especially when we have no more details we can share. It’s all well and good to tell a few white ones over a casual lunch, but calling up clients to lie to them is just not my modus operandi. Better to let the consultants earn their money on this one first.
The consultants will cut ratings anyway. They always do. Or, even worse, put us ‘on hold’. (In this way, investment consultants are like PCCW; in the history of the known world, nobody has ever come ‘off hold’ with either!) Then clients will get nervous and make redemptions. It’s all about long-term relationships and lasting commitments when we are negotiating fees. Then at the first sign of trouble, those precious little stomachs prove too weak and loyalty simply becomes what Japanese pop stars get paid when their video is aired on MTV.
But the game has already changed, my friends – rather than being about winning new clients, it’s now about not losing old ones. Downside limitation; retain, not attain. This is no place for a red-blooded sales king like yours truly. I never played soccer, but I know one thing -- it ain’t the goalkeepers who date the supermodels!
I always keep a copy of my résumé at the office for this type of occasion, so I tuck it into my case as I slip quietly out of the office at 6pm.
I find Mimi propped up at the bar in Zuma, perched on a stool almost her own height and already halfway through her first cocktail.
After the obligatory quadruple cheek kiss, she sets my mind at rest. “Don’t worry, sweetie, we’ll find you something better, just as soon as you pick up your oh-ten bonus…”
William T. Fitzgerald is a fictional character, as are all the other individuals and companies in “RFP Diary”. Any resemblance to the living or to real firms is purely coincidental. Will’s adventures continue fortnightly.