I’ve always said that there are three kinds of Wall Streeters.
Those that worry that their industry can be toxic, and try to make it or their world better to compensate (that can mean raising a great family, giving to charity, making money and then going to another career they love etc.).
Then there are those who Jamie Dimon-it, and take pride in the industry as it is.
And then there are the most dangerous people. The people who know that the industry can be toxic, and they just don’t care at all. These people also happen to be the most rare.
But they’re also the ones most immortalised in writing and film.
John LeFevre, the man behind Twitter’s hit Goldman Sachs Elevator parody account, was almost in that dangerous third category. He explains how he got there in his memoir, ‘Straight to Hell: True Tales of Deviance, Debauchery, and Billion-Dollar Deals.’
Our protagonist was ready to go to Wall Street from the tender age of 15. All of the cool dads who visited his New England Boarding school were Wall Streeters, and he always had a rebellious, above-the-rules attitude.
So when he made it through the torture of Wall Street recruiting, it seemed LeFevre had found himself at home. He moved to London, spent his entire bonus in one vacation, threw wild parties, and lived pay check to pay check in the most luxurious way possible.
His concept of money was quickly distorted, and none of it was ever enough.
Most of ‘Straight to Hell’ is spent in Hong Kong, where LeFevre does things that would make Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren’s hair stand on end. There are prostitutes and cocaine, high school cafeteria antics in incredibly high-end restaurants, lots of swearing — basically every debaucherous Wall Street meme you can think of hits the page.
Of course, you expected that from a writer who tweets things like:
#1: Some chick asked me what I would do with 10 million bucks. I told her I’d wonder where the rest of my money went.
— GSElevator (@GSElevator) November 12, 2013
What you may not expect from the book (and what would probably upset Elizabeth Warren the most) is LeFevre’s detailed depiction of doing business on Citigroup’s bond syndicate desk in Asia. There’s no question that he knows his way around the business, and it’s a dirty one. There’s collusion, competition, nepotism and a whole lot of reprehensible stuff going on on the business side, and it’s fascinating.
It’s the little things about banking — the code words, the tricks, the threshold for acceptable behaviour, that make this book a great read. In one chapter LeFevre describes what happens when a banker steps away from his desk after telling someone on the phone “let me call you in five minutes from my cell phone.”
What follows that is definitely not above board.
The thing is, there are consequences for all of this. LeFevre’s first night in Hong Kong is spent with his boss, who promptly takes him to a whore house. LeFevre realises that this wealthy, successful man who is about to move back to the United States has a drug problem, and a marriage that’s falling apart.
His boss is leaving Hong Kong to save his own life.
“It’s a good thing I’m not moving here with a wife or a coke problem,” LeFevre thinks to himself.
Eight weeks later he’s coked out and sweating, locked in a stranger’s bathroom doing something I won’t share because Business Insider is a family site. If you’re into that kind of humour, you’ll find it funny. If you’re not, you’ll find it appalling (and of course, this book may also not be for you).
Either way, what’s clear is that LeFevre thought he could have his way with Hong Kong, but Hong Kong (and the life he led there) eventually had its way with him.
You see, living that way is rather exhausting. Luckily, LeFevre can write. He now lives in Texas, and is married with two kids. He moved from the third category of Wall Streeters to the first (or something like it). Sure the book may sound unapologetic, but if it were that way entirely we wouldn’t ultimately understand why LeFevre’s life was unsustainable.
And you get that impression by about the fifth chapter.
There are tons of normal people doing normal things on Wall Street. Talk to LeFevre’s friends from that period and they will tell you that he was, in fact, extra wild, extra extravagant. He partied harder than most. He crashed luxury cars. He pushed the envelope.
So if you should so happen to go to Wall Street after reading ‘Straight to Hell’ expecting to find LeFevre’s world, I promise you’ll be disappointed. The vast majority of bankers can’t hang like that.
The ones that do, though, will need to get out to save their own lives.