Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Was 2008 a success?

2008 has been a duzi. This year saw the growth of my business, occupation of my first offices, the completion of another honours degree and the crush on someone at work.

One of my clients is a large investment bank. I've been running a large project there for over a year now. The project has proved tough - investment bankers are not the easiest clients in the world. But things have gone well and has sold into the fifth phase which is a testament to client satisfaction. There are things that could have gone better. But given that much of my team is made up of client team members and the rest by sub-contractors, the dynamic has been tough to manage. Next year is a big one to take this client to the next level. More about that later.

Another client is a Canadian mining company. This year saw two trips to present to their board and run workshops in Toronto. It's been some time since I used to have a hectic international travel schedule, and traveling across time zones to Toronto and back within a week is a killer. But things went well and I continue to do cutting edge financial strategy work related to their global expansion. They must be satisfied because they've asked to sign a retainer agreement.

I've neglected my global media client this year and this must mark a failure. The division MD who was my main client has left and I have not been close enough to ensure continuity in the relationship. I need to fix this but have found that I can only really stretch across two clients. I need a partner take over this relationship.

Which gets me onto hiring. Clear out-and-out failure. I started by approaching two people I used to work with. One was without doubt the most promising consultant I'd ever worked with. I wanted to hire him as a manager (mid level in my company). He's now really successful at one of the banks and it will cost a fortune to hire him back. Anyway, I offered to match his current package and he decided he needed more time in his role before moving back to consulting. The good news is we met in the last few weeks and he may well move in the next few months. This would help me a lot, so it is really exciting.

The other ex-colleague I approached is now a director of a listed company. She backed down mid year due to concerns as to whether she could be a consultant again. But we also met in the last few weeks and she may be available by June. She fits the media client in terms of skills, so I'm really holding thumbs.

Both ex-colleagues know me and I trust them. I picked them as the people to build a business with when I approached them.

Of the more than 100 CVs I've considered for analyst positions, one resulted in an offer. Sadly she turned me down as she was scared of being the first employee alone in the office during mornings when I am on client site. The analyst position is office based until sufficient experience has been gained. I can imagine joining a small new company straight out of varsity as top student, etc would be intimidating. I need to find a way to sell this.

So finding employees has been a failure thus far.

I also took occupation of new offices. This has been my biggest commitment to my business thus far. Rental is one thing, but furnishing and fitting an office is another. It's been a huge expense. And hard work - as I've done lots of the fitting and furniture purchasing myself. But the office looks amazing and I have capacity to take on 18 staff. The commitment is 3 years of monthly rentals. Wow. It certainly is motivation to hire some billing employees to spread the contribution towards rental. But it is a big milestone and is an undoubted success.

I finished another honours degree this year. I studied further in my third major as it turned out to be most relevant to what I do and where my greatest interest lay. So my reasons were due to interest and for learning rather than because I wanted another qualification. But still, my ambition was a first class / cum laude pass. I was on track but with the crazy year and the last trip overseas in particular, my grades slipped and I missed the first. This is the failure I regret the most.

On the reading front, this year has been an undoubted success. I've got through tonnes this year by catching 10 minutes here and there. It seems to work for me. In particular I've read all the Investment Banking books going. This has been enjoyable and clearly contributed to my competence with one of my clients. My list for the year includes (amongst the tonnes of academic reading):

Fiasco - Frank Partnoy
Infectious Greed - Frank Partnoy
The Predators' Ball - Connie Bruck
The Accidental Investment Banker - Jonathan Knee
Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets - Nassim Nicholas Taleb
The Black Swan - Nassim Nicholas Taleb
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People - Stephen Covey
Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco - Bryan Burrough
Traders, Guns & Money: Knowns and unknowns in the dazzling world of derivatives - Satyajit Das
Goldman Sachs : The Culture of Success - Lisa Endlich
The New New Thing - Michael Lewis
The Bonfire of The Vanities - Tom Wolfe
Monty - Mark Keohane

For those interested in investment banking, I've been through these over the past few years:

Wriston: Walter Wriston, Citibank, and the Rise and Fall of American Financial Supremacy - Phillip L. Zweig
Den of Thieves - James B. Stewart
Liar's Poker: Two Cities, True Greed - Michael Lewis

And those I bought but have yet to read (some of the many, but for the next few months):

Valuation: Measuring and Managing the Value of Companies - McKinsey
Paul Wilmott on Quantitative Finance 3 Volume Set - Paul Wilmott
Outliers: The Story of Success - Malcolm Gladwell
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking - Malcolm Gladwell
Fooling Some of the People All of the Time: A Long Short Story - David Einhorn

I now need to think about my masters. I have discovered that Wits Business School offers a dissertation based masters. This compares much more favourably than the coursework based masters at Wits commerce faculty. The coursework based masters has lectures at 17h00 which is just incompatible with a business schedule. I will either enroll for the dissertation based masters in 2009 or complete some maths courses and do some preparatory research.

I must reinvigorate the media client relationship this year and possibly bring in a global FMCG client. This will require signing a partner.

My intention is to complete 3 to 4 hires this year - a partner, a manager, an analyst or possibly 2. This would reflect huge growth in my business and a big success in delegating and trusting others.

I also need to find a successful relationship this year - be it with a guy or girl. I really want someone who I am attracted to to be attracted to me. For the company, understanding and love.

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