Fran from Queens, who works at a hedge fund, writes in with an interesting predicament.
Dear Bud Fox News, I’m the office manager at a small hedge fund in Manhattan. One of my responsibilities is the office decor. I’ve tried my best to make the place look professional but also welcoming for investor visits. To be honest, I think the office looks pretty good. The problem is that my bosses, who are the fund’s three portfolio managers, are not happy with the office plants. I’ve attached a photo of the one that drives them particularly nuts. I’ll admit that it’s looking a little strange. They’ve started making inappropriate jokes about the shape of the thing; they call it “Fran’s Phallic Fern.” And recently one of them told me that this plant is a test of my ability, that if I can’t get the thing to grow, they might “need” (his words) to think about replacing me. He gave me some BS about “having to step up and take ownership.” Can you please advise me on this? Thanks, Fran
Dear Fran, what you have in your photo is an artificial office plant. No amount of watering, feeding, or chatting with it will do anything to make it grow. So there’s a good chance that you’re the victim of a practical joke that’s gone on way too long, a real possibility considering you’re dealing with PMs at a hedge fund. Your typical hedgie has a sense of humor formed in a crucible of unthinkable nerdiness and often dirty lucre, and his misfired jokes wouldn’t put a smile on the face of an easily amused schizophrenic strung out on methadone. Another scenario is more troubling but probably more likely: Your bosses might be so stupid that they don’t realize that the plant in question is fake. You see, despite all the fancy degrees and the use of terms like “convexity,” some hedge fund pros are unadulterated idiots.
Here’s an example. Sure, you can write academic papers full of charts trying to explain away how Amaranth Advisors lost $5 billion in a week (they somehow had $9 billion at their peak), but the simplest diagnosis is usually right: These guys were ignoramuses. If you need more proof, just consider the firm’s name: In the supposedly rough and tumble world of Wall Street, where traders joke about “ripping an account’s face off” and a predictable hedge fund name is “Cerberus” (the three-headed dog that guarded the gates of Hades in classical mythology), these simpletons opted for Amaranth, which, according to Merriam-Webster, is a flower that never fades. If there’s an NFL franchise in Los Angeles next year, it’s unlikely that Goodell will OK the name Los Angeles Lilacs.
Let’s assume these guys are dolts. Your problem, Fran, is that research at the top business schools has recently shown that the dumber the hedgie, the more likely he/she is to get nabbed trading on insider information (case in point: before SAC’s Mathew Martoma, a true nitwit, started a nine-year prison stretch for bribing Dr. Sid Gilman for drug trial data before their market release, he’d been tossed from Harvard Law for doctoring his academic transcript; unconvinced he wasn’t smart enough to cheat, Martoma still went back to the stupidity well). So tell your bosses that you’ve been taking grad school night classes in Economics and Organizational Behavior (without a perceived informational advantage over you, they will be terrified) and have learned that a strict division of labor within the office will maximize efficiency. Tell them that Ricardian comparative advantage theory dictates that you should focus on the flowers and they should focus on the investors (giving them a taste of their own medicine by invoking economic theory and jargon will frighten them speechless and make them putty in your hands). Add that you would like this arrangement reflected in an “executed” employment contract (hedgies love “executed” in place of “signed,” and speaking their language will seal the deal); that way, when the SEC shows up to bust your bosses for insider trading, it’ll be clear that you had nothing to do with it.