Dear Lehman Employees

Or should I say ex-Lehman employees? Assuming that most of you haven’t been fired yet, I’ll drop the ex. I know that a couple of days back, I wished for your company’s demise. That had nothing to do with you. I wished for that because I thought that was the right thing to be done. And the right thing has been done.

I know that you are out of a job, or will soon be without one. And that there are millions of Lehman people out on the street now, looking for a job. You may soon be joined by some people from Merrill, so you may not be alone. However, this is not the kind of thing where one appreciates company – after all that would reduce your chances of getting a job early.

I’m told that a number of you are desperate to quickly get into other jobs. I even heard that some of you are willing to take fantastic pay cuts in order to get employed again. I also heard that some of you are planning to apply to jobs that have nothing remotely to do with banking. i would advise you against doing things like this.

I know some of you have mortgages to pay. Some of you have families to take care of. And by embracing the American culture, you don’t have enough stowed away to take care of this. Some of you may not be allowed to legally live where you are currently leaving unless you find another job soon. Yes, if you are in this kind of a situation, you would do well to find a job early. However, keep in mind that whenever you are looking out, all that matters is your last paycheque. I figured out the hard way a few months back that the job market is Markovian. It doesn’t care for what you used to do. So if you end up taking a pay cut now, you might have to live on a different salary scale for the rest of your life.

However, a large number of you may not belong to the above category. You might have some savings stashed away, or you wont’ have mortgages to repay, and you aren’t really desperate to retain your visa. If you fit this category, I would advise you to hold out. I know you are upset now, but don’t panic. Don’t be in a hurry to find a job. Don’t sell out. Unless there are more large-scale layoffs in the near future – with Merrill having been sold, the chances of this aren’t too high – the job situation is going to get better with time.

Remember that once you are in a job, you will never get a break. You might get your statutory three weeks of privileged leave, but you will never find an opportunity to take a longish break. You will never get an opportunity for a sabbatical. To take some time off and do what you want. Yes, personal experience tells me that it’s really tough to chill when you don’t know where your next cash flow will come from. But given your experience in what was considered to be the best bond house in the world, it shouldn’t be that tough to find another job, when the supply in the market isn’t as bad as it is now. I would still advise you to take a short break, and breathe, and introspect, and ask yourself all the  questions you haven’t been able to ask because you didn’t have the time.

You might think I’m crazy to be telling you this, but I think this is what will work best for you. Yes, there is a small chance you might get a good enough job paying well enough soon enough. If you hit upon this, then, you must count yourself lucky, and take it. However, there is a good chance that you may not be able to do this. All I’m saying is that in that situation you shouldn’t panic.

Just one last thing. If you are from Lehman, and are interested in working for a quant-based algorithmic trading hedge fund trading in Indian equity and equity derivatives markets, and based out of in Gurgaon, let me know. Drop in a comment with your email ID. Look up on this page, and you find a tab saying “Contact”. Click on that and you’ll get a form. fill it up including your email id and submit it. You might find someone responding to you in a few days.

Thanks and reegards,


Law of conservation of willpower and other stories

Every time I think about this article in the New York Times, I find myself agreeing more with it. The basic premise of the article is that in the short run, one has a limited “supply” of willpower, and by every activity you do that consumes willpower, you are reducing your ability to do other similar activities. In the longer run, the article goes on to explain, you can increase your willpower over time. This you do by keeping on pushing yourself marginally on the willpower scale.

Back when I first read this article (it was written this April), I used it to justify to myself as to why a normal management consulting job requires heavy amount of willpower. The argument I put forth back then was that in a mgmt consulting job (the kind of stuff done by McKinsey,  A T Kearney, etc) you have to work for long hours, mostly in the presence of members from the client team, and a large amount of work you do is mostly routine, and boring.

Given that the work is mostly boring, it consumes willpower to keep doing it. The long hours mean that you need to keep doing it for a long time, which means a high rate of willpower consumption for a long time – making your daily consumption of willpower really high. Typical work usually involves your exhausting close to your daily supply of willpower. One option would be to periodically recharge your willpower batteries – by indulging in activities that don’t require any willpower, and will also go into removing your frustration with the depleting willpower.

One of the most high-pressure jobs, one that consumes copious amounts of willpower, is trading. Though the hours aren’t too long, the rate of consumption is so high that you easily come close to the daily limit. However, traders usually manage by frequently recharging their willpower batteries. By indulging in activities such as shouting, screaming, throwing down the phone and breaking pencils. This way, they manage to survive until the time they get paid their bonuses (assuming they get a bonus – which is not the case with most traders this year).

The clincher with consulting is that you are usually based at the client’s location. This means that you must behave. And thus, a major source of recharging willpower batteries is gone! Hence, the only way you can survive in that profession is if you have an extremely large daily supply of willpower.

Every time I think about this NYTimes article, I also realize that my willpower is less than average. Though I must say that it’s been steadily increasing, it’s nowhere close to the average level. Initially, in school and college, I managed to get by because the amount of willpower demanded wasn’t very high, and within my limits. Then, I started working, and got exposed.

There was this guy called Yaso in my class at IIT who on one fine day started writing with his left hand (he is naturally righthanded). He explained that he was doing this to build up his willpower. I don’t know how successful his attempt was, but I clearly remember we’d made a hell of a lot of fun of him for this. Maybe I should check back with him. And start implementing some measures for improving long-run willpower that the article talks about.

Life update

Today I complete four months of joblessness. Time seems to have flown quite quickly. Looking back, I don’t really know how I spent these months. I think I read quite a bit. I chilled out a bit. Slept well. Ate well. Hardly travelled. Hardly got bored. One one hand I’m happy that I didn’t get bored for most of these four months. On the other hand, I believe I’ve wasted these months sitting at home.

I spent a considerable amount of time trying to figure out what I wanted to do in life. Professionally. Unprofessionally. There were no easy answers to this question. Every time I thought I had the answer, something would happen which would make me change my answer. I have spanned the entire spectrum just in a matter of days. Thought about some stuff, only to discard them only a day later. Nothing particularly concrete came of of this time.

My joblessness is going to end next Monday, the 25th. I’m moving to Gurgaon. I’m yet to book my tickets, but will probably go there on Sunday. Once I find a house and settle down there, there is a very good chance that my mother will join me there. Bangalore will continue to be my “hometown” but I’m not sure if it’ll still be home. Yes, I’m getting uprooted.

The popular saying is that most people have two careers – they do, on an average, two kinds of jobs in their entire careers. The saying also goes on to say that “successful” people have an average of four different careers. I don’t know what to make of it, but I’ll be starting my fourth job next week (counting one internship also as a job). The new job is “orthogonal” to my last two jobs, which were mutually orthogonal. The new job is slightly in line with my first job (the internship) but the similarity is slight. So, at the age of twenty five, with a total working life of a little more than two years, I’m entering my fourth career. I don’t know if I’ve “achieved success” because of this.

When I was a kid, I used to read Misha. I still remember one cartoon from that. A hedgehog stands under an apple tree, and wants to get the apple. It shakes the tree. A few leaves fall off. It shakes the tree again. A few more leaves fall. The penultimate panel shows the hedgehog shaking the tree really vigorously. The last panel shows the hedgehog covered with leaves from the tree. The fruit is still up there. Based on this, my father used to “do a hedgehog on” me. This treatment involved him catching me by the shoulders and shaking me vigorously back and fourth, well at a faster rate. It used to be fun. This treatment has since been extended to all kids who have cared to visit our house.

For a large part of my childhood, it was common for me to go up to my father and say “make a hedgehog out of me”. And he used to proceed to give me the “hedgehog treatment” that I’ve mentioned above. Finally it seems like all those requests have come to fruition. In the lingo followed by the financial industry, people who work in hedge funds are called ‘hedgehogs’. And starting next Monday, this set is going to include me.

Being a jack of many trades

Earlier today, I had written that bosses are unlikely to trust employees who they think have the option of easily quitting their jobs. I had made the point back then that you shouldn’t take a job for which you are over-qualified.

Thinking about it, it strikes me that if you are versatile, you face a similar kind of problem. Suppose you have the necessary skill sets to do say four different kinds of jobs, and are doing one, irrespective of where you go, your boss will think there is a good chance you might take flight to one of the other jobs. Now, if the potential bosses think like this during the interview itself, there is a good chance that none of them is willing to hire you!

From the point of view of long-term stability, what most bosses are looking for is for focussed and committed employees. And unless your “skills vector” points broadly in the same direction of the required skills for the job, the cross product will be big enough to cause concerns over stability in the mind of the interviewer.

One option, of course, is to focus on one particular direction and forget your other skills, so that the component of your skills vector in this particular direction will dwarf the components in other directions, thus reducing the cross product when compared to the job profile skills vector. But what do you do if, at a particular point of time in your career, you are a jack-of-several-trades – like I am at this point of time? You need to be able to do something now before you are able to improve in a component.

You might appreciate the following analogy if you understand contract bridge. What do you do with a hand where in each of the four suits, both you and your partner are reasonably strong, while there is no single strong suit? You need to choose a trump, and may end up choosing the longest of suits. But due to this choice, you may not be able to use your high cards in the other suits to the fullest extent.

Bridge offers a way out for this, by allowing you to bid for a no trump contract. The challenge here is to find the equivalent of a no trump contract in the job market.

Speaking to Baada about this, we somehow thought this too might fit in with the seminal studs and fighters framework. It is likely (not guaranteed, but likely) that a stud boss may just look at the magnitude of the skills vector and the unique direction it points to and say “OK if i train this guy in my direction, i’m sure he’ll grow quickly along that and will be useful to me”. My little experience says that fighters are more likely to look for “proven track record in chosen field” and “focus” and would thus not be too appreciative of a big cross product.

option to escape

From The Logic of Life – “your option to escape means you cannot be relied upon”.

Harford makes this point while he is talking about “acting white”. That black kids who work hard at acads are discouraged by family and peers because they are now getting an option to exit the misery. It’s the old story of the crabs in the jar. That nothing will escape despite the lid being open.

From a job perspective, this factor might not help people who are seen as being over-qualified for their job. The boss won’t trust them. The boss knows it’s easier for these guys to move out when they want to. So unless they manage to project an extremely strong degree of commitment, it would be difficult for the boss to invest in them.

And two years back, when I left A T Kearney, I had thought I should get into something where I’m overqualified thinking it might help me be seen in a better relative light and thus grow…