As I mentioned in a previous post, I am reading William Cohan’s book on Goldman Sachs and I stumbled across the story of Josh Birnbaum, one of the quants on the mortgage desk who set up the “Big Short" and eventually got hauled before Congress for his troubles. Though far from an exemplary figure, keep in mind that even the protagonists of picaresque can teach us something. Birnbaum had traded stocks since childhood and by the time he got into business school he was obviously willing to kill to get an internship in Wall Street. Devoid of contacts, he resorted to creativity:
After his sophomore year at Wharton, he wanted to get an internship in finance, as did most of his classmates, and dreamed of getting a job on Wall Street but knew that since he was only in his second year, his appeal to Wall Street would be limited because it would be two years before he was able to start working full-time. But Birnbaum was crafty; he had sufficient credits under his belt to claim to be a junior. So he headed to the school’s placement office and started scanning into a computer the piles of business cards Wall Street executives had left during the job interview process. He then sent out hundreds of letters trying to convey the idea each time that he had always wanted to work at that particular firm. (p. 466-7)
Also, for less ethical sales tactics, check out this anecdote from Michael Lewis’s profile of California in the midst of the financial crisis. Former Governor "Ahnuld" Schwarzenegger recalls his early days in the United States working as a construction worker with a fellow bodybuilder:
Franco would play the unreliable Italian, Arnold the sober German. Before they cut any deal they’d scream at each other in German in front of the customer until the customer would finally ask what was going on. Arnold would turn to the customer and explain, Oh, he’s Italian, and you know how they are. He wants to charge you more, but I think we can do it cheaply. Schwarzenegger would then name a not so cheap price. “And the customer,” he says now, laughing, “he would always say, ‘Arnold, you’re such a nice guy! So honest!’ It was selling, you know.”
Miguel Llorens is a freelance financial translator based in Madrid who works from Spanish into English. He is specialized in equity research, economics, accounting, and investment strategy. He has worked as a translator for Goldman Sachs, the US Government's Open Source Center, several small-and-medium-sized brokerages, asset management institutions based in Spain, and H.B.O. International. To contact him, visit his website and write to the address listed there. You can also join his LinkedIn network or follow him on Twitter.