Love this email newsletter Mergers & Inquisitions, about how to get into investment banking. I don’t have any interest in getting into investment banking, but I love the candid perspective. Read the below and ask yourself “How often do I fail at pattern recognition because the patterns are seemingly illogical or self-contradictory? Are your self-reflections prescriptive rather than descriptive? How will you reconcile that?”
How to Become a Hong Kong Movie Star
So, Greg, I get a lot of questions about how to break into investment banking, how to write your resume, and what the “magic bullet” is.
But I’ll be honest with you: sometimes I get really bored of writing about those topics.
So today I’m going to teach you how to become a movie star in Hong Kong instead - or at least how my plan to become a celebrity didn’t quite work out and how my 2 friends lost $2,800 in the process.
Once Upon a Time…
I had just left Korea after living there for over a year, and I was visiting Hong Kong with some friends - they had a legitimate reason to be there (to see their family), while I was just tagging along and seeing if I could be an extra in the next Mission: Impossible movie.
We had been meeting and greeting and getting into some completely random stories (none of which are appropriate to share, sorry), when suddenly my friends got distracted by family business.
Their mother in New York sent them an email with a single line of instructions:
"Withdraw $2,800 USD in cash and give to relatives."
One small catch: the cash had to be in US dollars - not Hong Kong dollars - even though we were in Hong Kong and US dollars were 100% useless.
If you’re Asian, this story probably seems familiar: getting tasked with doing favors for relatives you don’t like or have never met, simply because they’re family.
And you understand exactly why my friends’ parents wanted them to withdraw the $2,800 in US dollars, despite the currency being useless in Hong Kong: it was higher status.
Just like bulge bracket banks are “more prestigious” than middle-market or boutique banks, US dollars in Hong Kong were “higher status” than Hong Kong dollars, which in turn were “higher status” than the RMB used in mainland China.
That might have made sense in 1980 or so, but today it’s completely nonsensical considering the rise of China.
But it didn’t matter: my friends had a mission and they had to accomplish it, or face the combined wrath of all their family members.
Laughing on the Sidelines
While my friends ran off to bank after bank, claiming that they needed $2,800 in US dollars and convincing the tellers that they weren’t money laundering for terrorists, I sat there laughing.
I pried a little more and found out that my friends’ family in NY and their family in Hong Kong had a tradition of sending each other equal amounts of money every year, but never actually buying real presents.
…which is sort of like entering “=5 - 5” in Excel rather than just leaving the cell blank or entering 0.
OK, But How Does This Relate to Investment Banking - or Movie Stars?
This entire incident sunk my chances of becoming an extra in Mission: Impossible because I was tagging along as my friends withdrew thousands of dollars from banks during the day.
So if you want to do acting, don’t get started on a trip where your friends get sidetracked by a scavenger hunt.
But the relationship to banking is simpler: sometimes, stuff just doesn’t make any sense.
Why do bankers work so much? Couldn’t they just hire more staff?
Why do you need 500 revisions of one pitch book? Don’t you get diminishing returns after revision #21?
Why did they ask you what animal is closest to your personality in an interview? Does that have anything to do with your knowledge of valuation?
Why do bankers talk about cocaine so much without actually doing it?
Embrace the Illogical
The answer to all of the above: “No one knows - it doesn’t make any sense.”
Rather than fighting the illogical culture, you need to embrace it if you want to get in and get ahead.