Entering the corporate minefield

Published: September 2, 2010
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The finance sector is highly competitive

Growing up most girls whilst combing their Barbie’s unbelievably silky hair dream of life with a Ken look alike in a White House inspired mansion with three children who supplement the family income by being Gap for Kids models. I however owing to; a militant mother and being dropped on the head by a clumsy aunt umpteen times during infancy remember giving my Malibu Barbie’s flaxen locks 100 vigorous strokes and dreaming of taking over Mattel Inc.

And truth be told the quest for boardroom success has not diminished in the last 20 something years. So I did what any other ambitious and upwardly mobile Pakistani would do – I became an investment banker. And since the global markets of the developed world were in danger of imminent collapse in 2007 I packed my bags and moved back home.

Since my point of return was smack in the middle of Musharraf’s economic prosperity there was no shortage of job offers. Words such as hiring freeze and downturn had not become part of our constant thoughts and every prolific financial institution imagined itself to be the next regional Goldman Sachs.

After having interviewed at half a dozen banks – big and small – and answering the three most important questions that a prospective female banker is asked;

1)      Are you getting married anytime soon?

2)      Will your parents object to your working in the office post 9pm?

3)      Do you have any objections to working with male colleagues post 9pm?

I decided to join XYZ Capital – main reasons being their Italian coffee machine, lure of analyst training in Singapore for two weeks and a healthy signing bonus that would enable me to acquire Khaadi outfits in all colors of the rainbow in anticipation of my corporate innings.

My first day on the job began at 8am sharp – staring at an empty shiny plywood desk and the glossy brown roach striding purposefully on it – waiting for someone to show up and either tell me to pack my bags and go home – back to the warmth of my winter quilt or show some signs of enthusiasm at the arrival of the next Mack the knife. What actually happened at 8.55 am was completely to the contrary –  fifteen grumpy men ranging from the ages of 24 to 45, hairlines receding in direct correlation to their ascent up the corporate ladder marched in – grunted some form of greeting into my direction and switched open their Dell laptops.

A few hours and three cups of coffee later I was summoned into the big boss’s room. With a scenic view of our local Wall Street, and a cement wall covered with Euro and Asia money awards it was difficult not to mentally calculate how many GDRs and massive M&A transactions it would take before I could take my rightful position behind the mahogany desk. The welcome talk was brief and simply suggested: as an analyst you are the lowest of beings in our scheme of things – this gives all your superiors the right to scream, yell profanities and demand that you perform under totally unrealistic deadlines. If you manage to survive this all other subsequent jobs will be a piece of cake.

Following that I was introduced to Tom and Jerry – the two corporate finance co-heads, (appearing to be chalk and cheese) they offered brief bios and passed on me on to the VP in-charge of staffing analysts and associates on to transactions.

It must have been my rambling in my interview about my glorious journalism past that led to a pitch book about a media company in desperate need of funds to survive make its way towards my desk. Two hours and some basic profit earnings ratio calculations later I was marched off into the shiny conference room where the CFO of the said firm and his two stooges awaited our verdict on its fate.

Three hours and a long winded screaming match between Tom and the CFO later it was decided that Ms Husain will prepare a revised version of the proposal and it would be sent across before day end. Whatever happened to training and teaching newcomers the art of using power point and excel? I had always imagined that my genius would be discovered on day one of my job – but I had not anticipated struggling with the previously unknown formatting tools of power point while chomping a Mr. Big with cheese in five minutes flat. Those with no experience in the high tension financial sector must realize that lunch breaks are an urban myth and bathroom visits must be saved and used predominantly when you want to take a quick catnap in the loo.

Downloading comparative financials from Bloomberg convinced me that I was dyslexic – till that day I had no idea so many Asian media companies existed. And so much for India being the enemy state – it is the nearest business model to us. Around 9pm after printing and proof reading version two of the book – I figured it was time to call it a day. That was until Tom beckoned me into his glass cubicle and proceeded to shred my piece of art (and dignity) into bits by pointing out inconsistencies in font size and how he was amazed at why all girls thought italics were cute.

But  all bad dreams must come to an eventual end and I too emerged onto a deserted street at eleven thirty chuffed at surviving my first day in the corporate jungle and then I realized one day down a lifetime to go.

Shezray Husain

Shezray Husain

A journalist turned investment banker turned entrepreneur with a keen interest in most things around her.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.