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Typical Day

Pitch Wu sleeps in ironed sheets. His mother told him that he insisted on pin-striped 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 $140k—more than both of them made, combined, after 25 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 $50k a year if compared with their teachers' hours where they worked just 8-3 and had summers off. Pitch regularly works 80-hour weeks.

He 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 84-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 7am 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 8:30, which means it is actually due at 8:15 and in Pitch's mind, it is due at 8. Sharp. So 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 is a deluge behind them. He has made the stupid mistake of only processing books a night or two before they are due rather than getting "ahead." There has been a deluge of six other deals and he hasn't slept for the last two nights. He swears he'll never do it again, but "thank you, Red Bull" has been ingrained in his brain for a while now.

This vehicle has a hard time not speeding.

One of the deals requires detailed financial processing. He has to create what is 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 11 divisions and a highly volatile set of flows. So he spends three hours cranking through that model—but he knows that he doesn’t "know" everything and, to hedge his bets, he makes an appointment with his boss (the VP of his group) to go over the model to double-check for errors. Pitch is a smart kid and realizes that by going early to his boss, in case there ARE any mistakes, the VP will stick up for him and not throw 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." (Not in a romantic way.) Rather, 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 is 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 will roll much of the profits from the IPO to those clients into 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 800 other things to do at the office, it makes sense for Pitch 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), he doesn't have anything other than just good grades and test scores. Which is fine if he is "okay with" second tier business schools. But those are met with scorn and derision at SilverSlacks, who markets that they hire only the "best of the best."

If anyone mentions "LeBron" right now, we'll scream.

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 would remain at SilverSlacks and marry the firm if he could. He would…yes, pitch woo. (Sorry.)

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 $140k, 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.

And a biggie is interviewing new victim—er um, hires from Wharton. He has committed to have interview schedules in every manager’s inboxes by the end of the week and he wants to get on that process this eve—after poring through 214 ask letters, he chooses 80 to put "in rotation"—i.e., each will get three 30-minute interviews by one of eight members of the bank in a single full day of on-campus interviews. From that list will be chosen 16 candidates to be flown to New York and groomed, offered, synthesized and pushed: At SilverSlacks, candidates have to first answer that "if offered, I would accept" a job. That way, SilverSlacks never pitches their own woo to then be jilted. They are fussy and sensitive about such things—but they are selling "best of the best" to their clients, so silly things like this issue matter.

Today was a relatively easy day—Pitch leaves the office at 9. He is 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 is a warm night so he decides to walk the 23 blocks home to his tiny apartment, passing by store windows with awesome things being offered. And on his $140k salary and bonus, he can still afford almost none of them. Many years' work and sacrifice still needed to get there, wherever "there" is.