For those interested in what exactly investment bankers do, “Monkey Business” provides a highly readable insider’s account of the industry around 2000. As I read the book, I kept making comparisons to Michael Lewis’s account of Wall Street in the 1980s, “Liar’s Poker.” Book books take the reader inside Wall Street by exploring a specific firm. Interestingly, neither firm of the firms described in these accounts exist today. I found “Monkey Business” to be a highly readable introduction to investment banking, albeit from the pre-financial crisis era.
In reading any biography or autobiography, I’m always fascinated by the question: “How did they get started?” In the case of “Monkey Business,” the story is straightforward – attend a top ranked business school (e.g. Harvard or Wharton) and the investment banks come to campus for recruitment. Even as math and other technical skills continue to rise in importance, investment banking continues to be a personal business and that shines through in the recruitment process, Troob and Rolfe are blunt in describing the strengths and, at times, rather embarrassing character flaws of the bankers who recruited them to Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette (DLJ). From what I have read and heard of recruiting elsewhere, campus recruiting remains the most popular way to enter the industry – it’s a high pressure series of interviews where there is fierce competition. That should come as no surprise as bankers are indeed well paid. In February 2013, the New York Times reported that “All told, the average pay package for securities industry employees in New York was $362,900 in 2011″
The day to day work environment at DLJ strikes the reader as a combination of interesting work, long demanding assignments and other assignments. The authors make occasional reference to consulting friends at other friends – such as when they benchmark their compensation – but the book is largely a report of their experience at one firm. I found it interesting to read about the interaction between the different levels of the organization: analysts, associates and firm leadership. Rolfe and Troob also point out that investment banking can be like the army: lots of waiting for action (e.g. at the printing office) between bouts of intense action. Not all work happens at the office – travel is a key part of the “Monkey Business” investment banking business.
When many people think of travel, thoughts of rest and relaxation come to mind. Business travel for bankers is far from that – not only do bankers cope with the pressures of travel itself but there is an expectation that one will keep up with the office back home. As analysts, travel also meant a great deal of logistical work arranging hotels, travel, cars and meetings. Learning how to deliver under such pressure is surely demanding but I expect it is a great way to build one’s discipline.
“Monkey Business” ends with the authors leaving their firm for other opportunities. In different ways, both Troob and Rolfe became disenchanted with various aspects of DLJ. Their decisions were at once personal – a desire to leave the firm for other opportunities and a sense that they did not fit in that world. The book is at once a cautionary tale, a highly entertaining autobiography and a light introduction to the investment banking business.