Right after I joined the firm I spent several weeks meeting with people from the leveraged finance desks of a series of investment banks. The point, of course, is to develop a strong relationship with a few key players who dole out leverage for buyouts and inspire enough trust to buy yourself concessions when it matters. Initially, I thought this a fool's errand. Why, after all, would hardened bankers give up even a touch of advantage because you bought them a few drinks? This was the hardened, hyper-capitalist realm of Wall Street, wasn't it? What had happened to "if you want a friend, get a dog?"
While I didn't think it particularly useful for the reasons suggested by, among others, Armin, I went along. It would, certainly, be useful to know the players in any event.
Of course, what I didn't properly account for was that the debt gang at banks are trying just as hard to schmooze the private equity folks for deal flow. They are as anxious to take us for drinks as we are to take them for dinner.
At the crack of dawn, Armin's driver took me down to the Midtown offices where I picked up Laura, our "Debt Associate," affectionately the firm's "Debt Chick." Sometimes, owing to her tough-as-nails reputation on interest rate negotiation, our "Debt Bitch." Laura was a tallish brunette who wore a lot of Hermes scarves. They became a sort of trademark for her.
The Debt Bitch and I had arranged for a whirlwind tour around Manhattan. We scheduled 5 meetings starting at 9am and going in a sort of radiating pattern emanating from the nucleus of our offices.
Most of our little jaunts were only 30 minutes or so. Sure, we had a pair of deals, here's the initial materials. Are you interested? Oh, this is Equity Private, by the way. Equity will be around more and more as our newest Vice President. Well, give me a sense of where you think we are on this. We'd love to see your term sheet. Drinks? Later tonight? Could be. Excellent. Ciao.
Sometimes we'd meet a Managing Director, but typically it was at the Vice President level. Oddly, a private equity Associate seems to start off life at the Investment Banking Vice President level. And as a Vice President, I seem to spend a lot of time being introduced to Managing Directors at Investment Banks. At least, that's how it seems to work with us. Title inflation, perhaps?
Our fourth meeting was with Morgan Stanley. Apparently the Morgan Guy, let's call him "Nicholas," prefers to meet outside the office. Later it was explained to me that Morgan can be a pretty oppressive environment and that therefore their younger people took any excuse to get out of the office that afforded itself. A date with the Debt Bitch, I figured, had a reputation for being a good gig.
I was puzzled because though we planned to meet for a late-lunch "drink," Nicholas insisted we come up to the office before heading out. Nicholas turned out to be a five foot five, blonde haired and blue eyed workaholic type. At first I figured he just wanted to talk some shop before we went anywhere and that he preferred a more professional environment for that sort of thing, but when we were shown to his office his reaction was strange. He and Debt Bitch locked eyes silently for a solid and wordless twenty seconds and after that the first thing he did was grab his coat and lead us out.
"What's the story on the useless office visit?" I whispered to Laura while Nicholas ducked into an Associate's half-office and gave some instructions.
"Well, he needs some people to see that he's going out with 'clients,' and not just 'going out.' The 'face time' thing is big here."
"That sucks. Does Nicholas pull this often?"
"I've never met this guy," she told me. This surprised me.
"The way he asked us out for drinks and the way he looked at you, I assumed that you knew him well."
"Never met him," came her reply. It was short and abrupt. Laura, though I barely knew her, was prone to long, expressive discussions. I was sure she was hiding something from me. I wanted to pry, but Nicholas emerged from the Associate cell and led us to the elevator banks. On his way out he announced loudly, "Headed out with the folks from Sub Rosa," here he jabbed a thumb back through the air indicating us to the admin. "Be back in a couple hours." Laura gave me a knowing look. That was for the benefit of any Managing Directors who might later ask.