Thursday, March 24, 2016

James Bond Belongs On Wall Street

Wall Street often undervalues military veterans. Snobs who've never broken a sweat look down their nose at people who've worn muddy boots and dirtied their hands. The only veterans that might be exempt from the categorical cold shoulder are those with intelligence backgrounds. The appeal has little to do with qualifying skills and aptitudes. It has everything to do with a popular culture phenomenon that romanticizes intelligence work as something exclusive to a small elite, just like how Wall Street sees itself.

Intelligence analysis has a lot in common with financial analysis. Both rely on open source material for background data on geopolitical conditions and economic trends. Analysts in the US military and intelligence community use detailed methodologies for tracking changes in a competitor's strength. Private sector analysts have the same mentality when tracking a company's financial statements and news releases. Both types of analysts take the protection of confidential and proprietary information very seriously, and they take pains to safeguard privileged information from disclosure. It should be easy to make the argument that intelligence people would be assets on Wall Street. It's even easier to use a movie icon as shorthand for the advantages of having an intelligence pro in a financial house. That icon is none other than Agent 007, James Bond.

Anyone who's seen a Bond film knows the guy's fictional lifestyle. He travels the world with ease, wears a tuxedo to gambling tournaments at five-star hotels, drinks martinis, wears an expensive watch, drives a customized luxury car, and comes face to face with the most powerful and intriguing people in the world. James Bond is the archetype of alpha achievement and unquestioned competence, with a healthy serving of of sociopathy. Stereotypical financial titans think of themselves exactly the same way. Plenty of senior investment bankers and private equity fund managers negotiate high-stakes deals with intriguing international counterparts. They can afford a James Bond lifestyle in real life. 

Your typical high-powered Wall Street type gets deal flow from peer referrals, and hiring also works the same way. Image and prestige matter more than actual qualifications. An investment banker who sees a resume labeled "intelligence veteran" doesn't think about the candidate's analytical skills, geopolitical outlook, or cultural expertise. They think, "It's Agent 007. This person must have a lifestyle just like mine." That's all that matters.

Military veterans aiming for Wall Street careers can make this irrational bias work in their favor. Executives who think they need a Bond-like presence on their team are suckers for an intelligence veteran's pitch. The dumb trust fund kids running around Wall Street's mid-levels make hiring decisions on instinct. Action movies form their entire picture of military life. They'll hire for a "killer" advantage if they think a veteran brings shock and awe to a deal. You don't have to be a James Bond (or Jane Bond for the female equivalent) to close the deal, but the image's unspoken power just might open a door that would otherwise be closed to veterans.

Right this way, Mr. Bond. We've been expecting you . . . in the Fortune 500 boardroom.