When Love Meets Greed
by Fred Gratzon
I was living out the dream of entrepreneurs everywhere – taking my company public.
During the day, preened investment bankers fawned over me. And at night, visions of sugar plums in “green shoes” danced in my head, as I price-earnings ratioed myself to sleep.
While my managers battled the bitter realities of getting the company ready, I wafted in the sweet intoxication of my securitized reverie.
It came to pass that well before circulating our prospectus and starting the road show, we had to have one big meeting with the three investment banks we had selected. The purpose was to sift through a myriad of mind-numbing issues.
Seated around a huge table in the windowless conference room of a Georgetown law firm were representatives from each of our investment banks. Counting their lawyers there were 14 of them. If it were a police line up, you wouldn't had been able to tell one from the next. All were young (late twenties to mid thirties), similarly pinstriped, identically coiffed, universally spit-shined, racially indistinguishable, and male.
With one notable exception! Julia Barton. (Not her real name.)
Julia, the sole female, was the lead banker from one of the big Wall Street houses. To be sure, she was as professional, as proficient, as polished as her male counterparts, if not more so. AND she was pretty. Very pretty.
Julia dazzled me. She clearly had game. I marveled how she gave no ground and elbowed for rebounds with the best from the other banks. Did I mention she was pretty? It was easy to fall in love with her. And I did.
But I wasn't the only one. During a lively discussion, the substance of which has long since been forgotten, John, our chief operating officer, left his seat and came over to me.
For a little background, John was enormously competent. He graduated with an MBA from Harvard Business School as a Baker Scholar (a great distinction) and worked for Boston Consulting Group. Fluent in Wall Street-ese, he was completely at home in this meeting. He too had been smitten by Julia.
“What about Julia Barton for our board of directors?” he whispered in my ear.
Needless to say I was intrigued.
John proceeded to give me his reasoning as if crude logic were required to justify delicate emotion. “She's a woman and we're short on women in upper management. She's smart. She knows her stuff and she's well-connected.”
I nodded approvingly at his compelling analysis.
When John returned to his seat, I swiveled to the man on my right – Doug, our chief financial officer.
It took a lot to impress Doug who, in his distinguished career, had long ago become immune to occupants of dark blue suits.
“What about Julia Barton for our board of directors?” I whispered.
The question blindsided Doug. He just stared at me slack-jawed. Struggling for words, he finally stammered, “W-w-why would you EVER think THAT?”
I was shocked by his reaction. Fortunately John's Harvard-educated arguments were fresh in my mind so I quickly repeated them, “Well, she's a woman and we're short on women in upper management. She's smart. She knows her stuff and she's well-connected.”
Once again Doug was rendered dumbfounded. He gaped at me in astonishment. Carefully choosing his words, he whispered, “But she's a jackal!”
He paused to collect his thoughts and then added, “Fred, these people are not your friends. They're hyenas! The only reason they are being friendly to you is because you are fresh kill. Right now they are fighting over who gets to eat your heart and who gets to eat your head. These people will turn on you and sell you down the river in a wink if it is to their advantage.”
“From now on,” he counseled, “every time you look at Julia Barton, I want you to see her with a patch over her eye, a peg leg, and a parrot on her shoulder.” He then turned back to the discussion at hand.
With my hormones having had the equivalent of an ice water plunge, I watched Julia Barton belly-ache about her bank's allotment of the fees. In retrospect, whatever they got was too much. Over the next few months, her bank did not contribute anything substantial to the success of the IPO and, true to Doug's characterization, her bank became the first one to turn against us.
It was the hottest of times. It was the coldest of times.