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October 31, 2008

Ashamed of being a Wall Streeter?

From the "Dear Lucy" career advise column in Financial Times.
At a dinner party last Saturday I was asked by a fellow guest what I did and I said I was an investment banker. I might as well have said I was a paedophile. Suddenly the whole table – all friends of my wife from the art world – turned on me with such venom I was really taken aback. I tried to defend myself by saying that I had nothing to be ashamed of in the work that I do in M&A, but the more I argued the more hostile the other guests became. Next time this happens – and I fear there will be a next time – should I accept guilt for what isn’t my fault, or should I lie and say I’m a librarian?

There is absolutely no point in trying to convince arty people that you are anything other than the devil; any attempt will make things worse. The complaint against investment bankers is that you have dragged the world into recession through your greed, stupidity and arrogance, and any attempt to say otherwise will enrage them still more.

To avoid further ugly scenes, next time say you work for the government. Which, depending on your bank, may be partly true. If there is a follow-up question (although there probably won’t be) say you work on the financial side. That will shut them up.

...The bigger question is, who is right: you or the outraged artists? The answer is neither. You weren’t personally responsible for what has happened, yet neither are you in a good position to claim the high moral ground. M&A is not the most honourable of callings: mostly it just added to leverage and job losses, so to show a bit of humility might have been seemly.

Arun Natarajan is the Founder & CEO of Venture Intelligence, the leading provider of information and networking services to the private equity and venture capital ecosystem in India. View free samples of Venture Intelligence newsletters and reports. Email the author at arun@ventureintelligence.in