John Lefevre, author of “Straight to Hell” and former bond market executive behind @GSElevator, spoke with Bloomberg Television’s Erik Schatzker and Matt Miller and Bloomberg View columnist Matt Levine about his time on Wall Street.
When asked whether the debauchery he describes in his book pervades all of banking, Lefevre explained: “Perhaps I am an outlier, but I would say unequivocally there isn’t a single fixed-income sales in Asia who isn’t traded women and/or drugs for business with their clients.”
When asked about legal issues in the business industry such as “collusion, conspiracy, price fixing, dissemination of non-public information,” Lefevre said: “There were a lot of things I couldn’t document” suggesting illegal activity that would have been self-incriminating.
Lefevre notes that the pattern of “bankers behaving badly” is “this kind pervasive deviance…I’m talking about basically the entire industry”
When asked about criticisms from the public mentioning that young professionals might take this book as a “how-to manual,” Levre said: “People will comment aspirationally about emulating or looking up to this kind of elitist, sexist, racist, misogynist mentality that the character perpetuates online. And I try to write unapologetically without the kind of cliches of epiphany and redemption, because I think that’s important. People can draw their own conclusions.”
John Lefevre: ‘Straight to Hell’ Chronicles Wild Wall Street Culture
Former Trader Details Seedy World of Banking in Asia
ERIK SCHATZKER: John Lefevre is here. So is Bloomberg View columnist, Matthew Levine, who did work at – who did, I should say, work at Goldman Sachs, spent more than three years in Goldman specializing in equity derivatives, pardon me.
MATT MILLER: Shall I?
SCHATZKER: All of a sudden, something about this book. Matt also penned a review of “Straight to Hell” for Bloomberg Businessweek. Gentlemen, welcome. John, welcome.
JOHN LEFEVRE: Thanks for having me.
SCHATZKER: John, I have to begin with this question, the character who emerges from the pages of your book, is something of a D-bag, isn’t he? He is arrogant. He’s cocksure. He’s delusionally self-confident.
SCHATZKER: Is this the person you were, the person you are, or —
LEFEVRE: I would say it is the person that I was.
SCHATZKER: Who are you now?
LEFEVRE: Now I’m a nice family guy with two kids who likes playing golf and living in the suburbs of Houston, Texas.
SCHATZKER: How does one make a transformation like that, because believe me, anyone who reads this book will find some of the tales surprisingly —
LEFEVRE: Revealing, outrageous, offensive?
SCHATZKER: Yes. We can go with that.
LEFEVRE: Okay. I woke up one day and said, each year I was spending in Hong Kong was taking probably five years off my life. And so I said, I have had enough of this. I going to go back and live on a golf course and take it easy.
MILLER: Now I’d I say, I’m a fan of these kind of books, and I love tell all, fun life of bankers, especially ex-pats, and I feel like I know a lot of people that live that life. But you have said, hey, I worked at Goldman Sachs and I didn’t witness any of this there. Is that just because you think Goldman Sachs employs bankers with a higher moral compass? Or did you — is it possible that you just worked in that side of the business?
MATTHEW LEVINE, BLOOMBERG VIEW COLUMNIST: Yes. I think that’s a possibility. I think that — I think as you said in the book, Asia gets a little wilder than a lot of the home offices. You’re kind of further away from supervision if you’re working at a U.S. bank in Hong Kong or Tokyo. I also maybe think that you kind of focused on the worst aspect of banking in some ways, and that the character in the book is to some extent the stereotype of like what people want to hear about bankers, rather than —
MILLER: It’s not making the world a better place like everybody in Silicon Valley.
LEVINE: Yes. I think there’s — and like there is like a day-to-day that, at least in my experience wasn’t hookers and cocaine every day.
LEFEVRE: I think he’s talking about is the kind age-old battle between the kids that sat in the back of the class and the kids that sit in front of the class. So you can say that perhaps I am an outlier, but I would say unequivocally there isn’t a single fixed-income sales in Asia who isn’t traded women and/or drugs for business with their clients. And you talk about maybe Goldman Sachs being slightly different. My counterpart there —
LEVINE: The front of the class, please.
LEFEVRE: — my counterpart there is a guy who, and I can’t mention his name, left his wife for a stripper. So we’re talking about —
MILLER: But this was — you’re in bond syndicate, right?
MILLER: He is an equity derivatives, maybe a different kind of group, maybe a different kind of class of people?
LEVINE: Yes, perhaps.
LEFEVRE: And I think Matt might be one of the guys who had a Nerf football thrown at him across the trading floor a few times.
SCHATZKER: John, can we talk about the business, because that is really what your —
LEFEVRE: Yes. Either — I think there are lot of — you talk about highlighting the worst elements of perhaps, but there are a lot of substantive issues in there besides saying —
SCHATZKER: Yes, collusion, conspiracy, price fixing, dissemination of non-public information,
LEFEVRE: Giving bad advice on purpose, absolutely, all those things. So one example I gave is I talk about how my boss came to me, And we had a deal that we were looking at doing in November, but our bonus numbers had already gone in, so he said, hey, just get on the phone. Let’s tell the client January is a better execution window, so we can attribute this to next year’s bonus. And that’s kind of the mentality that we lived every day, and perhaps Matt’s experience might be slightly different.
MILLER: Well actually I was — I want to ask you about this, because we were talking about these issues in the meeting this morning and I was like, what are we going to say? Doesn’t everyone know that bankers collude? Obviously these guys are doing this kind of stuff, right? Does it really surprise you that that kind of behavior not only exists, but sort of runs the banking calendar?
LEVINE: I mean, look, I think it’s interesting to kind of see former bankers sort of say it so directly, like I mean I think it’s widely assumed that a lot of these issues exist that syndicate bankers tell people when deals are coming, that people — that co-managers on deals fight with each other and don’t necessarily put the client’s interest first.
MILLER: Rod Rudding (ph).
LEVINE: Yes. It’s interesting —
LEFEVRE: Colluding on fees. And again —
LEVINE: Yes. Colluding on fees I found interesting because —
LEFEVRE: Matt used the word cliche, and what you said is true. We all kind of roll our eyes when we hear stories about bankers behaving badly. And those certainly aren’t new stores, but what I think