So here I am, dear diary, at the inaugural co-branded Integrity/Swiss Heritage Investment Seminar. It’s the usual cocktail: one part marketing tour, one part patronising ‘educational’ event and one part boast, watered down with as much free coffee as our delegates can drink and airplane food for lunch. I say ‘co-branded’, but this is not an Integrity event; the Swiss Heritage Events Team rolled into town with their usual paraphernalia, glued a small picture of our logo on to the flashy stage set-up and demanded our client list.

This was supposed to be a merger of equals, that’s what Paddy O’Dores said in his latest press statement about our forced marriage. But it’s becoming all too evident that this is a reverse takeover, the likes of which have not been seen since that zookeeper swept up just a little bit too close to the elephant – I think you know the clip I mean.

[See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rmULz03wdQ0. –Ed.]

At this point, we’ve been compelled to comply, but now I’m slapping the metaphorical elephant’s ass and keeping my mouth firmly shut.

Well, as you know, my mouth cannot stay closed for long. Up on stage now is Swiss Heritage’s ‘global director of learning and understanding’.

What a title, what a job, and he’s MD level!! That’s a bull-market job if ever I heard of one, yet somehow he has kept it alive since 2007. He must know something very bad indeed about ol’ Paddy…

So there he is, Viktor Kustnetsov, up on stage, proud of his PhD in ethereal mathematics – OK, so maybe he was made for this role – going on about pulling coloured balls from urns and discerning skill from luck. It’s always balls and urns – why not M&Ms from the bag, socks from the drawer, or girls from Wanchai? Lovely Vik has clearly had too many M&Ms, gets dressed in the dark and would need a lot of luck even in the seedy HK suburb.

Investment, he claims, is a game of chance. I totally agree. Those prima donnas with their six Bloomberg screens and bad breath have no more clue than you or I do about what tomorrow holds. That’s why they give you that look of hate when you meet them in the elevator and ask ‘what are the markets doing today?’ They need to say something smart at this point lest we think that they are not doing their job.

(The correct response, of course, is to say something banal about positioning for the coming bull run and then ask, “So how are sales this morning?”)

In this business, you want to be where the real action is, where you can impact the result – of course I talk about sales. It’s about long hours, persuasion tactics, impeccable credibility and tireless networking skills.

Brown envelopes, long lunches and short skirts help too, but was it luck when I landed the Wardley’s account? Was it by chance when we cleaned up at the Pacific Investment Services awards for the third year running?

No, it was simply working hard, knowing the client and greasing the right palms. But you can’t outwit the markets, I guess, so what’s the point of being a fund manager? You’re never in control of your destiny, whereas I certainly am. I can make a difference and gorgeous Vik is telling the room that all he does is make noise. It’s music to my ears…

He’s still going on – now it’s about skill. If it’s NOT a game of chance, he says, then you can lose on purpose.

Nice theory. It implies sales is pure skill.

It is in fact easy to lose on purpose, as anyone who’s ‘fired a client’ knows. By wining, dining and then fleeing old Jasper Cheuk’s cute-but-crazy PA, I managed to lose us the business ‘accidentally on purpose’. I started off thinking the insider knowledge would help, but in the end I chose to sacrifice the business for my own sanity. Christ, I had to change my mobile number twice to escape the girl!

Kusnetsov rolls on, and to prove he will use every cliché in the book, he is now throwing dice. He poses the rhetorical question: if he rolled two dice six times in a row and got double-six each time, then what are the odds of getting double-six on the seventh roll?

He proposes a few responses. A gambler would say the odds are very low, as there must be some mean reversion after such an unusual sequence. A statistician would say it’s still 1 in 36, exactly the same as every other roll.  An investment manager, he posits, would say the odds are very high, as clearly the dice are loaded in some way. I raise my hand and ask my question: “How much do you want for those dice?”

The crowd laughs appreciatively, this being the first original thing they have heard all morning. But do they realise the point I have made? Those investment guys are happy simply to play the odds they are given, but over here in sales, it’s about influencing the odds. Now I just need to find a way to swing the odds of me becoming regional CEO of the post-merger entity – I can’t be sweeping up behind these elephants for much longer…

 

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.