Pitch Wu sleeps in ironed sheets. His mother told him that he insisted on pinstriped diapers as a baby, and the parallels stuck. He graduated Wharton's undergraduate business program with great grades and was honored to receive a full-time offer from SilverSlacks, one of the best investment banks on Wall Street.
His parents, both school teachers, were appalled that his starting base salary and bonus was $140,000—more than both of them made, combined, after twenty-five years of work. But appalled in a loving, supportive way. Pitch was quick to point out that on a per-hour basis, his salary was more like $30,000 a year if compared with their teachers' hours where they worked just 8:00AM to 3:00PM and had summers off. Pitch regularly works eighty-hour weeks.
Pitch feels as if he never sleeps—even in his dreams, he assembles pitch books and analyzes numbers and pours coffee. It's a Tuesday and he has to finish an eighty-four-page analysis for a big oil company buying a little oil company; oil prices are volatile and he has to figure out how to hedge the deal if Israel bombs Iran and prices rocket; or if economic reports from China come out soft and prices plummet.
So he knows he has to be in the trading room by 7:00AM if he is going to get five minutes' attention from an oil trader who could give him the proper math.
That pitch book is due at 8:30AM, which means it's actually due at 8:15AM; but in Pitch's mind, it's due at 8:00AM. Sharp. He gets his task done and then zips upstairs to his office where he finds four other books due and deliverable in the next week—he wants to get them finished ASAP because he knows that there's a deluge behind them.
He once made the stupid mistake of only processing books a night or two before they were due, rather than getting ahead. There was a deluge of six other deals that smacked him out of nowhere. He didn't sleep for days, and he lost track of how many Red Bulls he'd had after can number six. Never again.
One of the deals requires detailed financial processing. He has to create what's called a discounted cash flow model. He has to figure out what a company would be worth based on the likelihood of its future stream of cash flows materializing. The model is complex because the company has eleven divisions and a highly volatile set of flows.
Pitch spends three hours cranking through that model—but he knows that he doesn't know everything and, to hedge his bets, makes an appointment with his boss (the VP of his group) to go over the model to double-check for errors. That way, if there are any mistakes, the VP will stick up for him instead of throwing him under the bus. And with another set of smart eyes on the numbers, odds of a flub are relatively low.
Early afternoon rolls around and the senior managing director pops into his office. "I need you." The MD needs more bodies for a final pitch to a company looking to go public.
He wants to "show mass"—i.e. that this deal is hugely important for the bank and that this IPO would be an "all hands on deck" kind of priority for the bank. Pitch is yet another body; he's available and looks good in a suit. Pitch keeps two extra-clean, pressed white shirts and two spare ties in the office for just such an emergency. Extra razors, too.
The IPO pitch goes long—lots of questions—but this is a good problem; it means the client is interested. And the deal is big for the bank, which believes it'll roll much of the profit from the IPO to those clients in its lucrative hedge fund series.
Literally a billion dollars of profit could be at stake for SilverSlacks if they win this deal, so career-wise, even though Pitch has eight hundred other things to do at the office, it makes sense for him to hang out as long as he possibly can.
Since Pitch is a second year analyst, he has to start thinking about applying to business schools—but he knows that getting in would be a long shot. He isn't an Olympic gold medalist, he doesn't speak five languages (though he does have a decent grasp of Chinese, courtesy of Grandma); in fact, he doesn't really have anything other than good grades and test scores.
Which would be fine, if he were okay with second-tier business schools. But those are met with scorn and derision at SilverSlacks, which markets that they hire only the best of the best.
A degree from Emory, even though it's an awesome school and probably delivers at least as good, if not better, education than does Stanford or Harvard, is viewed at SilverSlacks as a kind of black mark failure on a résumé. So Pitch knows he needs that third year analyst offer—he'd remain at SilverSlacks and marry the firm if he could.
If you work at SilverSlacks past 6:30PM, you get a free dinner and limo service home. The bank has a bulk deal with various providers. It doesn't cost them that much to provide, and the young analysts love having anything free. It makes them stay the extra two hours at night and draws dramatically better productivity from them.
For the $140,000, SilverSlacks is getting a great deal in their hire of Pitch—he tirelessly tends to every document, financial detail, and the other ministerial processes he has to manage.
Today was a relatively easy day—Pitch leaves the office at 9:00PM. He's only in the first third of employees to leave. Literally hundreds of bankers are still there processing, analyzing, and avoiding their families because...work beckons.
It's a warm night, so he decides to walk the twenty-three blocks home to his tiny apartment, passing by store windows with awesome things being offered. And on his $140,000 salary and bonus, he can still afford almost none of them. Many years' work and sacrifice are still needed to get there, wherever "there" is.