“Mushroom Treatment”: Financial Expression of the Day


The mushroom treatment: Keep them in the dark, feed them (bull)shit, and then can ’em if necessary.

Mushroom treatment,” noun phrase, a managerial style that involves handling employees the way most people think that mushrooms are grown:  keeping them in the dark (ie, uninformed), occasionally feeding them (bull)shit (ie, disinformed), and then canning (ie, firing) them if necessary.  Also “to mushroom,” verb, to administer the mushroom treatment.  Usage note:  Within the world of investment banking, those heartless enough to have what it takes to stick around quickly learn to give the mushroom treatment to those below them in the hierarchy (the truly brash also give the treatment to peers).  When a vice president learns that a client meeting has been postponed from next Monday to next Wednesday, will he give the associate below him a break and kindly inform him that he won’t need to work over the weekend?  Of course not; he’ll opt for one of the oldest tricks in the banker book, the false deadline.

So when early Friday afternoon rolls around, the VP will call the poor ignoramus of a junior banker into his office and remind him how important it is for him to finish a draft of the presentation by noon on Sunday.  There won’t even be much eye contact as the VP packs his briefcase for an early Friday departure while telling his miserable patsy to have a hard copy of the pitch delivered to his apartment on Sunday by messenger.  The duplicitous VP has got no qualms about giving his underling the mushroom treatment.  There’s always a small chance that the meeting will be rescheduled back to Monday, in which case he’s ready and will look like a genius to his bosses.  And if the Wednesday time-slot holds, then he’s prepared extra early, which is always preferable because there’s no telling what asinine changes or extra work that the senior vice president or managing director will request right up until the last possible minute.  It should be noted that a cagey VP who has a presentation book ready by Monday for a Wednesday meeting won’t tell a soul that he’s completed the work unless he’s asked because he knows such a revelation will simply invite more work.  The artful VP has figured out that if the senior bankers have more time, they’ll simply ask for more pie charts, more graphs, more comparable company analyses, a second down-side case to the model; the task will always expand to fill the size of the room.

When there’s no immediate benefit to the VP from mushrooming the associate, he’ll still do it.  Like the scorpion in the story with the frog, the VP just can’t help it.  Since he’s a banker, he’s a control freak, and the mushroom treatment helps him control the flow of information while keeping his colleagues uninformed and reliant on him for the updates he chooses to provide.

In banking, two groups from the same firm often work together on a deal.  For example, a merger of two chemical companies would at the very least call for bankers from the chemical industry group (bankers with industry relationships and knowledge) and M&A bankers (bankers who specialize in the M&A process).  Because bankers value deal experience more than just about anything else in the world, when a deal goes “live,” they start coming out of the woodwork, all of them shamelessly trying to glom onto the transaction- they’re like pole dancers vying for the attention of the nerdy post-IPO tech guru with the fat wallet who just walked into the club.  If you’re involved in a hideous multi-group deal hydra, keep your wits about you or you’ll be seeing more mushrooms than a pizza maker.

The ultimate ignominy is getting mushroomed by someone on your level (associate to associate, say) or, god forbid, by someone ranked lower than you (associate plunging the knife  between a VP’s shoulder blades).  If that ever happens, it’s probably best to admit that you’re not Machiavellian enough for investment banking and then send your resume to the research department.


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