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Morning Coffee: The horrible schedule you need to work to rescue a buy-side firm. Top former banker thinks her former ESG job was monstrous

Unfortunately for everyone in the industry, it takes an awful lot more work to recover a damaged franchise than it does to keep a functioning company going. So when a financial firm gets into as much trouble as Janus Henderson did after what was famously one of the worst mergers in fund management history, there were bound to be some blood sweat and tears involved for Ali Dibadj the CEO who was brought in two years ago to try to turn things around.

And there seem to have been all three, in large quantities. He currently works on a four-week cycle with one week in London, one week in Denver at the other Janus hub, one week in New York (where his family live) and then one week visiting some of the other global offices. His working day begins at 7:30 am, with back-to-back meetings “until 8pm if it’s New York and 11pm in other locations”, and he eats a salad for lunch and Pret a Manger for dinner. If there was an objective standard definition of “nice work if you can get it”, this would be its antonym.

What kind of a person could possibly live like this? A minute’s thought suggests one possibility from the banking industry, which is “a former top-rated sell side analyst”. He used to lead the Institutional Investor ranked consumer goods research team at AllianceBernstein, then moved up the ranks to become CFO and Head of Strategy. That’s likely to be where he learned the work ethic that causes colleagues today to admire his client focus and say things like “no one outworks Ali”.

The only bright side appears to be that Dibadj is staying in hotels in places other than New York, perhaps suggesting that he isn’t planning to keep up this schedule long enough to make it worthwhile buying a house in London or Denver. And the actual work seems to be getting less unpleasant; in the first few months after taking over, Dibadj, a former McKinsey consultant (of course) decided that he wasn’t going to “bring McKinsey in from on high”), but that Janus Henderson’s managers, from both sides of the divide, were going to agree a strategy between them, in a series of never-ending and apparently brutal struggle sessions. There was apparently “a lot of finger-pointing… real debates and arguments”.

Which are thankfully apparently now over, and Dibadj has some spare time to “walk the floor” twice a week in London and Denver. Apparently people still “corner” him to “tell him something”, but it’s now a welcome “feedback mechanism”.  And he manages to make it home to New York every Friday for movie night at 7pm, which might be a bit better than he would have been able to do on the sell side.

Elsewhere, when a former banker describes their industry as “a corrupted lie”, “a scam” and “absolute BS”, then the question which might first come to mind is “why did you do it then, if you think it’s so bad?”. Deirdre Fixler, the former head of sustainability at DWS, might consider that she’s got a reasonable reply to that question – although she was one of ESG investment’s “earliest cheerleaders” and made a career in it from the early 2000s up until 2021, she made a very abrupt exit after accusing her former employer of greenwashing. (DWS settled with the SEC for $19m without any evidence of deceit being brought to light and a German investigation is still ongoing).

After that experience, she’s become an anti-ESG campaigner, or at least a consultant offering advice on how banks and fund managers can avoid charges of “greenwashing”. In principle, she might be in for a huge payday from the SEC whistleblower process (between 10% and 30% of the financial settlement), but this is apparently a slow and drawn-out process.

Meanwhile…

If you’re paying $10,000 for the cycling holiday of a lifetime, you might feel you’re entitled to expect some high quality looking after.  The Backroads adventure travel company puts people wanting to work as tour guides through a boot camp program that seems at least as arduous as being a junior banker (and just as selective; only 10% of applicants get through), so that they will “pls fix” problems with the hotels, route and bikes while smoothing the egos of clients who might not have been as fit as they thought they were. (WSJ)

Although the SEC whistleblower program remains a lucrative, if slow, way to turn information about someone else’s misdeeds into cash, the New York City noise complaint reward system has got a lot less generous of late. (NY Post)

Good times are coming back in Canada.  In fact, they are almost a little too good, for oil and gas companies at least.  The sector is generating so much profit that “nobody needs to raise money”, and consequently bankers in places like Calgary are getting laid off. (Bloomberg)

Schonfeld has been chopping and changing its macro traders, including getting rid of some big names like Ben Melkman.  They have been replacing high-rolling directional traders with pods that have less risky relative-value styles, in order to try to avoid some of the big losses that have hit macro funds this year. (Business Insider)

Employees at HSBC, BlackRock and other London financial firms have apparently been getting a few favours in the bank early by helping the Labour Party out with its housing and energy policy.  As the old proverb says, there’s nothing quite as expensive or as profitable as free advice. (Bloomberg)

The “co-ordination tax” is the new name for the fact that when your colleagues are working flexibly, it’s hard to know whether the meeting should be virtual or in-person and to co-ordinate everyone’s calendars.  Nobody seems to suggest the Gordian solution of just not having the meeting. (WSJ)

Alternatively, you could reduce the co-ordination tax exposure by accepting that your employees might be dialling in from the hairdressers’ (FT)

Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Contact: +44 7537 182250 (SMS, Whatsapp or voicemail). Telegram: @SarahButcher. Or email editortips@efinancialcareers.com. Signal also available.

Bear with us if you leave a comment at the bottom of this article: all our comments are moderated by human beings. Sometimes these humans might be asleep, or away from their desks, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. Eventually it will – unless it’s offensive or libelous (in which case it won’t.)

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AUTHORDaniel Davies Insider Comment
  • Bi
    Bismarck
    19 June 2024

    Oh come on - Most people will work 90 hour weeks if you pay them more than $1mm p.a. And are we meant to have heard about these people? It's all seems a bit 'Footballer's Wives' with anecdotes from self-inflated entities who complain how tough their life is, whilst casually dismissing others who do the same.

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