Rich man, new man?

Some top City firms are touting family-friendly policies to attract young high-fliers. Enlightened self-interest - or mere lip service?
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Apparently, the chairman of Lazard Brothers merchant bank is hopping mad. The trouble begins with three unsolicited questions asked on a Friday afternoon at London Business School (LBS) in February. In Lecture Theatre Six, Lazards' speaker, Paul Strutt, flanked by three other Lazards' employees (some of whom are ex-LBS graduates), is approaching the end of his presentation to students on the Master of Business Administration course. It could be one of a hundred or so similar recruitment pitches made throughout the academic year by companies keen to attract LBS graduates; tonight it happens to be Lazards.

After singing the praises of his bank - "ranked one in the mergers and acquisitions league tables" - he slips a transparency under the overhead projector and says: "I'd like to touch briefly on the kind of person we're looking for." The students - approximately 60 of them, mostly males aged 29 to 35, the majority wearing suits - straighten up.

From my view at the top of the auditorium the difference between the current crop of MBA students, and the former MBAs now employed by Lazards, is graphic: by and large the students still have their hair. The Lazards suits, however, sport generous bald patches, physical evidence, perhaps, of the long hours, acute stress and premature ageing that is the cost of a high-paying job in investment banking. Strutt is stressing the "motivation and commitment" required of successful candidates and then he asks: "Any questions?"

I stand up. "I have three questions," I say. "Firstly, if I were to join Lazards, how many hours per week, on average, would I be expected to work? Secondly, if my wife has a child, do I get paternity leave and if so, how many days? And finally, if my child gets ill and my wife is also working, is it part of the Lazards' culture that I can take time off to take my child to the doctor?"

There is an audible gasp from the students; as if I have dared ask the unaskable. Then one of the Lazards bald patches turns to me and says: "If you're asking these questions, that means you don't want to come to Lazards. Do we like working weekends? No. But clients require stuff to be done. I don't even know what my hours are anymore. If an employee is sick, there is no point in forcing them to work. We're paternalistic. You join Lazards and you're part of a team. But we can't have people going off and doing whatever they like."

I was just wondering, I persist, how much Lazards take into account that people have lives apart from work? Strutt, all charm, suggests we speak afterwards over drinks. But outside he is tight-lipped and angry. Although LBS has sanctioned my being there, they have neglected to inform Lazards, who feel - I can only guess - exposed? Strutt hunches over his mobile phone and urgently reports the "breach of protocol" back to head office. Meanwhile he tells the LBS representative to tell me: "Lazards would rather you didn't come to the reception. They are offended by your questions. They say they are irrelevant to Lazards and to the graduates."

A few days later, I receive the following message from the director of career management at LBS on my answering machine: "David, it's Lesley Aylward phoning from London Business School to say that the repercussions from your visit are ringing loud and far and wide. The chairman of Lazards is jumping up and down. They have taken it all extremely seriously and are very upset. I really could do without all this furore. Could you fill me in on what you actually asked? I understand it was about quality of life. [Big sigh] I mean the questions you asked were hardly strategic, were they?"

Thankfully, not all City firms take the recidivist view. Indeed some have begun to sell themselves precisely by emphasising how "family friendly" they are.

Quintin Price, 35, a managing director at the leading stockbroker James Capel, recently told a LBS audience that his golden rule, which he "moves heaven and earth to keep", is that every Thursday night he has dinner with his wife, even if he has to fly back from business in Hong Kong. "Don't be seduced by the investment [merchant] banks with their 24-hour canteens," he warned them. "They may pay you more but it's because they're buying your soul. It is a grotesque lack of imagination that leads some people to think that the only way they can get ahead is by working every hour of the week. There is the story of the investment bank partner who says: 'I'm working hard now so I'll have time to get to know my grandchildren.' Pathetic! These are people who pride themselves on their intellectual prowess but who have not the wit to organise themselves a decent, balanced life."

And David Dinkin, 38, a partner at Andersen Consulting with two children aged seven and five, sold himself to potential LBS recruits as "a family man" whose firm, moreover, are conscious of the need for "balanced lifestyles". "If I can get home in time to read my kids a bedtime story, there is nothing better for me," he said.

Mere lip service? Or is the masochistic culture of the City - work-through- the-night, squeeze-the-last-drop-of-blood attitude - really changing?

"My view is that parts of the City are definitely shifting, but change is patchy and slow," says Quintin Price. "When I started in the City, the prevailing attitude, which I shared, was that you had to work yourself into the ground. I no longer hold that view. Make no mistake, I still work extremely hard. I hit my desk at 7.30am and I'm seldom home before my kids are put to bed at 8pm, but my colleagues now know that I don't work weekends. I have a one-year-old, a two-year-old and a wife and that time's for them. I'm not an exception - a lot of people in my office take their family seriously and are no longer prepared to be married to the firm. If one of the investment banks had to ring me up and offer me a job, I'd tell them straight: I don't work weekends and if that goes against your grain, there isn't a fit. I believe that there is a clear correlation between career success and well balanced human beings who make time for their personal life."

Like Price, David Dinkin is not exactly a down-shifter. He works anything between a 40-hour week (which he calls "breathers") and a 70-hour week, depending on whether he's in a "peak" or a "trough". The trick to creating a balanced lifestyle is setting yourself up to manage that volatility, he says. "I call it working smarter, rather than working harder. It means I structure the team in such a way that we have sufficient people to handle the peaks working regular-ish hours and when things are slack, we take time off. I also make sure to set my colleagues' expectations - this is a critical point - that family is important to me. I used to be asked to cancel holidays at the last moment. Now I guard that time by announcing it in advance."

To interview Dinkin, for example, I have to wait until his daughter's half-term is over. He is in the middle of a "hot, high-pressure period", but he has, he proudly tells me, factored in three days off with his family. Monday was spent at the Science Museum, Tuesday walking on the beach at Margate and Wednesday, well, he had to come into the office for a meeting, but then he went home immediately afterwards. "I thought that was pretty good, getting two-and-a-half days out of three in the middle of a major delivery to a client," he says.

But is a "balanced lifestyle" also available to minions lower down the pecking order? "Partners have more control over their lives," admits Dinkin. "But employees get the message that there are no Brownie points for jackets on the chair at 9pm or for hanging around at work when you don't need to be there. In fact, the message is quite the opposite. Get a life!"

But what happens when priorities clash? "I compromise" laughs Dinkin. "For example, in a few weeks' time my job requires me to be in Miami on a Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and then in New York for the Monday and Tuesday. But we have a school ball on the Saturday evening and it is very important to my wife that we are part of that school community. So I am flying back on Friday night from Miami to go to this ball and taking the first flight back on Monday morning. It's a crazy compromise, but I'm definitely going to do it." And the firm will pay? "No problem. Though I suspect it's unlikely they would have done so five years ago."

What is driving the change? Some look to technology, which allows people flexibility to work from home, but technology can be a ball and chain. Some investment bankers are encouraged to check their voice-mail and e- mail every six hours, so they end up calling in the middle of the night, or from the Waitrose car park. Others suggest that the City is slowly being feminised as men, learning from female counterparts, develop the courage to give their family a higher priority, perhaps even working from home to look after a sick child. Dinkin thinks it's the soaring divorce rates and the fear of ending up as another "absent dad" statistic. "I looked up at senior partners, twice divorced, and I thought: I don't want to end up like that!"

Critical to forcing the pace of change will be the attitude of new recruits. Do firms like Lazards risk losing the cream of the crop, in the long term, if they don't wise up to the new culture?

"I and many of my colleagues have essentially ruled out investment banking because of the lifestyle," says Michael Homan, a married, 28-year-old, final-year MBA graduate at LBS. "I am prepared to work 60-hour weeks, but I am not prepared to let work take over my whole life." Another final- year MBA, Adrian Ferguson, married with three children, reports that his colleagues split equally into two groups - those who are single, young and attracted by the City's lucre and those, like himself, who are attached, seek quality of life and who are no longer applying for the City. "Some go into the City with their eyes closed as to the sheer hours it entails. I wonder what the drop-out rate is - it must be phenomenal," he muses.

I thought I'd give Lazards one last chance to explain themselves, so I take Paul Strutt's advice and call their public relations officer, Kathy Jennings. I ask her: What is your firm's position on issues like quality of life? And do you keep statistics on how many partners are still married to the same person as when they joined the firm? "We've got nothing to say," she says. Can I speak to someone who has something to say? "No one at Lazards is prepared to be interviewed on that subject," she says frostily.

How will these institutions cope, I wonder, when someone asks them something really provocative?n

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