This year we noted neck-ties were more subdued, perhaps in deference to the prevailing economic environment, but the cuff links more than made up for it. Bigger, bolder and shinier û even than last year. Quite a few more bankers were wearing sports watches û did you forget to change into your Rolex before going to work? And the head of one investment bank proved that horizontal striped shirts can work.
Cost cuts were much in evidence. We saw fewer bankers fly, more video conferences and more working lunches (we reckon Pret a Manger shares would be a good buy based on our two-week experience û perhaps this is the IPO to chase in 2009?).
But we did discover, courtesy of UBS, that the Mandarin Grill is a great venue for dinner meetings. Enough distance between tables for us to passionately argue without fearing someone will overhear and tables large enough to accommodate pitch books, dinner plates and Bordeaux glasses (and, no, this did not bias our decision-making). But kudos to our host for the innovative dessert ordering û one should never just accept the menu.
Part of our judging team (the part with the sweet-tooth) was also thrilled with the pastry selection at quite a few meetings û of course we eat these strictly so that we can remain attentive during long afternoon sessions. And while we are still waiting for the same level of detail to be paid to the coffee on offer, one bank did excel by taking our Starbucks orders the night before one particularly early meeting.
Among the video conferences we must single out Deutsche Bank for waking us up first thing in the morning with a video of client testimonials. The creativity was evident when the background music matched the nationality of the issuer so we had sitar music in India, for a start. But please, letÆs keep video testimonials to a one-off. No copy cats needed on this.
The banks among you with relatively unimpaired balance sheets spoke often of the ôhalo effectö, CDS spreads, counterparty risk and how competitors were ôdistracted by their balance sheetsö. Several bankers talked about the ônon-negative factorö; didnÆt your mums teach you not to use double negatives?
There is now no doubt in our minds that even the optimists among you expect markets to continue to be dislocated through 2009. We heard you when you said ô2008 was not a year when the market came to us, it was a year when we had to go to the marketö.
We recognise the value of finding "pockets of demand" and that ôkeeping your motivation pureö is the only way to provide superior advice to your clients under these circumstances.
We share your angst that deals this year had no ôoomph factorö, were not sexy and that it was an anaemic 12 months. We also sympathise with the banker who was trying to stress the hard work required to get a deal out the door with the words: "You don't get fired as a fund manager for missing an Indonesian IPO." And we had to laugh when you told us that you spent a great deal of time ôwearing out the carpet outside a clientÆs doorö.
We agree that ôbuyerÆs remorseö is widespread among those who closed acquisitions in the first half of the year, especially some of the China and India outbound deals, but share your impassioned pitch that no-one could have predicted the outcomes and that in the long-term the strategic rationale underlying the deals will hold up.
We encountered quite a few sports metaphors, including the line about ôleaning over the skis too farö. But our favourite conversational exchange this pitch season has to be this:
FA editor to bankers: Wouldn't you agree that the execution on this deal could have been better?
Banker one: Look, it may not have been the prettiest dive and we may not have hit the water without a splash, but we did get off the board and we didnÆt crack our skulls on the tiles.
Banker two to banker one: Stop, please! The image of you in Speedos is not a pretty one!
Luckily we were spared that image since banker one was doing his part of the pitch over the phone.