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"My mother was an MD in an investment bank. Her ego was massive"

My mother was a managing director at a large bank. She worked her way up from being a graduate and was consistently told that she was one of the best of her cohort.

Although this may sound like the dream to many, for my mother it came with negatives. Unfortunately, the types of people that dominate this industry tend to possess undesirable qualities. The banking industry is known for having difficult personalities, and those personalities tend to get worse as you move up the corporate ladder.

Firstly, senior people in banking tend to be very transactional. With my mother, I learned very quickly that when she was being nice or doing something kind for you, it was because she needed something or wanted you to do something in return. If you refused to do what she wanted, she would get offended and even shun you. It was surreal and absurd.

Secondly, these people usually have massive egos. I imagine this stems from being told that they are better and smarter than everyone else. Being in a position of authority firmly cements these beliefs in their heads. I saw with my mother how this affected her behaviour.  As far as she was concerned, her opinion was always the best opinion and her advice was always the best advice. Anytime I decided to not do things her way and to take things in a different direction, she would feel offended. It injured her pride. It was almost like she was thinking to herself: “Who even are you and what do you know?”  I had the luxury of doing that because I wasn’t her subordinate at work, and she couldn’t force me into doing what she wanted.

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Since retiring from banking, she's definitely changed. Some of those traits are still there, but they aren’t as intense. She has become a better person. It makes me think that the environment she worked in created and accentuated her negative qualities. 

Banking is an ultra-competitive, dog-eat-dog world. It can cause people to become self obsessed and manipulative without even realizing it. When you're senior in banking, you want people to bend to your will, and you want them to do it now. People who don't are useless to you.

As the son of an MD, I think there are several ways of dealing with this. You can mirror the same behaviors, although I wouldn’t recommend this. I found that it helps to remember that the world isn’t all sunshine and roses. Senior bankers and the corporations they represent do not care about you at all. Even diversity and inclusion initiatives may exist solely to earn social credits. I learned (and am still learning) to read the room, to understand the type of people I’m working with and act accordingly. Complaining about people like my mother gets you nowhere. They are often manipulative and may spin the situation to make it seem like you are the problem. Moreover, I learned not to become quickly attached to people, as this can affect your objective assessment of them. Often times, people like my mother will seemingly do nice things for you, but there are almost always strings attached. 

At the end of the day, it seems like if you are determined to work in banking, then you simply have to learn how to play the game. You need to be sharp and keep your wits about, otherwise you could get run over - metaphorically. Winning the game means getting the good stuff like high pay, without absorbing the negatives (damaging influences on your morality and personality) of the industry.

John Le Carre is a pseudonym 

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AUTHORJohn Le Carre Insider Comment

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