Risk Latte - Sunday Brunch with the Head of Trading (HOT)

Sunday Brunch with the Head of Trading (HOT)

Rahul Bhattacharya
September 2,2006

Going over to Repulse Bay beach in Hong Kong's south side on a Sunday afternoon in scorching July heat for brunch with the Head of equity linked Trading (let's call him HOT) of an investment bank isn't fun at all. For a change, you'll have be prepared to get engaged in some seriously funky conversation, which may be a bit taxing on your brain, especially if you work in the banking or financial services industry.

After the pleasantries, which amounted to practically nothing except, "Hi, you look terrible", the HOT asked me: "So Rahul, if you throw a tennis ball at the wall of your room what's going to happen?". I said I needed black coffee, and prayed, Oh dear God please make him talk about markets or women, or whatever but not these brain-busters!

If someone asked us what will happen if we throw a tennis ball at wall of our room what would be our response? Of course, it will bounce back with 100% certainty, stupid! The HOT had just returned from a recruitment trip to the U.S. and had asked the same question to an MBA graduate from a prestigious business school in a job interview. The guy ironically had a Physics undergraduate degree but never expected a question like this. He came prepared with all the "nonsense" that he had learnt in his two years of MBA. So he answered the obvious, albeit with an air of irritation: the ball will bounce back for sure. Then the HOT asked the grad as to whether it was possible that at that very moment that they were talking in New York he could tunnel out somehow into the Wimbledon court near London and watch a tennis match in progress that was going on there. This time, apparently, the grad drew a blank.

The grad was hired by HOT as a trainee in the equity derivatives division of the bank. When I heard that I said "that's brilliant, great, well done but why exactly did you hire him, James?" His answer was: "to remind me every day that the banks are run by unimaginative and incurious people. And it starts right from day one."

Did you know that? I said what, what did I know? "The fact that Quantum Mechanics postulates that there is a probability, howsoever small, that the ball will cross the wall of the room and land on the other side,in the next room, just as there is a chance, infinitesimally small, that you will tunnel out of your room and land up in another place in another country at the very same instant". Quantum Mechanics in Repulse Bay on a Sunday afternoon? Where did that come from?

Then he asked me "Did you know that?" I said, well I may have read that sixty five million years ago but for the life of me I can't recall it now and I need a gallon of black coffee to wake up first. My brain is dead!

But he continued on. You see it is not about Quantum Mechanics or any shit like that. It's about thinking as if there is no box. Then he started talking about an incident whereby he once met a nineteen year old guy from Upper East Side in NYC who was struggling to start up a music band of his own. The father of the kid, a prominent, wealthy Wall Street banker had given up on him and the kid was shacking up with some of his buddies in Brooklyn . In a rare and chance meeting at the kid's father's house over dinner the discussion turned to numerical capabilities of bankers. The kid suddenly turned and told his dad: "two plus two equals four is in your universe.....how do you know that it is the same for someone else in another universe? Maybe it is six or one.....the problem with you, dad, is that you are born with two plus two in your head and you'll die with it.........I am not born with two plus two in my head....I like to feel it, seek out something like two plus two equals twenty five or zero…forget it pops! You are not going to get it..." The father blushed and later told HOT that the kid had completely lost it and that he was quite worried.

HOT, on his way back to his hotel in lower Manhattan thought how nice it would be if he could have the kid running the emerging market derivatives desk in his division.

The above was only a slice of the conversation that afternoon with the HOT. I am not going to talk about the rest. But how devastated can you be on a Sunday afternoon? How weird can the head of trading of a bank be? What motivates some kids to give up Upper East Side luxury and start up found music bands? And what motivates some other kids to do MBAs and kill their grey matter? I don't know and I don't care. All I know is that sometimes you may come across a banker who can truly blow your brains away!

© Rahul Bhattacharya
This column is written by Rahul Bhattacharya and reflects his own views about life and business. It does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of other members of Risk Latte Americas Inc., Hong Kong (“the Company”) and the Company accepts no responsibility for any factual errors contained in the column and strongly advises readers not to pay much attention to it.

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