Authors: John Rolfe,Peter Troob
The Bullpen was a fortress. Like the hold of a slave ship, it was in the middle of the building tucked away in an area where
visitors to the DLJ offices would never see it. It housed eleven offices, five singles and six doubles, which surrounded a
sizable common area. The carpeting was dingy, the walls filthy. Somebody at one point had tried to add a personal touch with
the addition of a couple of plants to the central common area, but these had long ago lost most of their leaves and stood
there like decaying carcasses. Whoever it was should have known better. There were no windows in the Bullpen, and the fluorescent
lights were in no way conducive to the healthy development of any living creature, plant or animal.
Each associate, in his or her windowless office, had a standard-issue steel desk, filing cabinet, and adjustable chair. The
desks and filing cabinets looked like they’d been carted off a NATO base. The chairs were slightly more up-to-date, a necessity
given that we’d be spending the majority of both our waking and sleeping hours in them over the coming months. All this furniture
sat on a worn carpet. The walls were scuffed with numerous heel marks, and the fluorescent lights hummed constantly like a
set of high-voltage electric wires. By the time we moved
in, most vestiges of the previous tenants’ existence had been removed, but within weeks each office would look once again
just as it always had—a tangled mass of pitch books, financial filings, and research reports. No personal effects. No pictures
of loved ones. DLJ was our family now, and there could be no competing loyalties.
The Bullpen stood in stark contrast to the majority of the DLJ office space. DLJ prided itself on its collection of Early
American art, historical documents, and antiques—all of which graced the halls, waiting areas, and managing directors’ offices.
Not the Bullpen, though. The Bullpen was all about business, which was befitting for a place where most of the real work got
done. The Bullpen’s residents took a perverse pride in their squalor, and the Bullpen itself served as a grim dose of reality
for those whose imaginations had carried them too far down the path of believing that their chosen profession was actually
a glamorous one.
While the Bullpen’s general atmosphere was in large part set by the wretched physical conditions therein, of equal importance
in determining the ambience was the general stress level of its young bankers. The combination of the demands that were placed
on them and their eagerness not to fuck up produced an atmosphere second only in intensity to that of a Duke-UNC basketball
game. At any given moment, staccato expletives could be heard erupting from multiple Bullpen offices: “fucko,” “shit,” “asshole,”
“dick,” “douchebag.” Generally, these were in response to phone calls from DLJ senior bankers who were making unreasonable
and sometimes unnecessary demands on already-overtaxed associates. The level of animosity toward many senior bankers that
the Bullpen had caused these senior bankers to develop a healthy respect for its real estate, and only the bravest of them
ever dared to penetrate its dark recesses. Even those senior bankers whose offices were in the Bullpen’s environs tended toward
communications with its populace only by telephone. Concerns over their personal safety outweighed whatever desire they may
have had to experience the Bullpen firsthand.
On our first day as summer associates, though, we didn’t know any of this. We were eager, we were ignorant, and we had stars
in our eyes. Moreover, upon our initial entry into the Bullpen, its squalid nature was temporarily displaced from our mind’s
eye by the presence of four young women as supple as any four we’d ever seen assembled at the same place and time. At first
blush, they all appeared to be products of a gene pool from the Valley of the Dolls. As one of our classmates, Enrico de la
Hernandez Franca—a Peruvian by birth—would later put it: “Jewels, each of them in their own way. It’s imperative that I have
They were our banking assistants, “BAs” for short, and they were there to help and guide us. They answered phones, did graphics
work, prepared documents, made travel arrangements, and did database work. At that moment, the four who were assigned to the
Bullpen knew far more in aggregate about banking than did our summer associate class. They were equal parts smart, beautiful,
and tolerant, but as we stood and ogled that day it was their beauty that was foremost in our minds.
The four introduced themselves to us: Heather, Hillary, Hope, and Tiffany. A second-year associate would later inform us of
a long-standing DLJ tradition whereby at
least one member of the summer associate class would be encouraged to put the wood to at least one of the BAs over the course
of the summer. There were eight volunteers ready to step forward that day, and had the one female member of our class had
any lesbian tendencies whatsoever, our voice would have been unanimous.
We congregated around the center of the Bullpen, making small talk and wondering when we were going to start doing deals.
Never mind that most of us had no idea what doing a deal entailed. We knew that we were there to do deals, that we weren’t
doing them presently, and that we had better start doing them because we only had ten weeks to prove ourselves.
Two full-time associates, Reid Wexler (or “Wex”) and Mark Brown, had been assigned to run the summer associate program. Their
tasks were to ensure that we all had good summer experiences and to shepherd us through the political maze that was DLJ. They
would be responsible for fielding calls from senior bankers in search of vigorous workhorses, and parceling out those requests
in some sort of equitable fashion to the summer class. For the duration of the summer, their offices would be in the Bullpen
with ours. They’d be there to share in our triumphs and commiserate with our defeats.
That day, they gave us some sage advice: “Don’t worry, the work will come. Don’t ever wish for more, because that nightmare
will inevitably come true. If it’s seven
. and you don’t have anything to do, then leave. Go the fuck home.” Of course, none of us would listen to their wise words.
We’d look around, see our classmates working, and convince ourselves that we, too, needed to be there doing something. None
of us planned on losing out
on that full-time offer by virtue of not working hard enough.
For one of us, a deal would come quickly. After several hours of aimless lounging in the Bullpen, Wex’s phone rang. Thirty
seconds later we heard him shout from his office.
“OK, who wants a deal?”
Well, of course, we all did but decorum dictated that nobody appear to be too eager. There were a couple of moments of silence.
“I said, which one of you slick bastards wants a deal? Perentazzi, you out there? You have some high-yield experience, don’t
you? Get in here so that I can get you up to speed. I need you to be on a plane to Cleveland within the next two hours. You’ve
got to start drafting for a high-yield deal.”
Drafting? High yield? It all sounded so exciting. Our classmate Perentazzi, now known as “Slick,” was getting on a plane on
our first day on the job, and if he’d been listening as closely as we had that morning during orientation he was going to
know how to fly first class. That was living, man, really living. We could see it, Slick had been staffed on a deal within
the first couple of hours; it couldn’t be much longer before the rest of us got staffed. Hell, by the end of the first week
we’d all be doing deals just like old-timers. We could hardly wait.
Rolfe and I knew that desire alone, unfortunately, didn’t get anybody staffed on deals. So we had to wait…and
wait…and wait. It wasn’t until four days later, on Thursday afternoon, that I’d finally get the call I’d been waiting for.
As for Rolfe, he had to wait another entire week before the call came through. That bothered him. He began to worry that he
was an untouchable.
I saw Troob and the others all getting staffed those first couple of weeks, and I couldn’t figure out why nobody wanted to
work with me. I didn’t understand how random the whole staffing process was. For those first two weeks I sat in my office
alternately staring at my watch and playing games of Minesweeper on the computer. I was a Minesweeping machine, but I wasn’t
learning a thing about banking. With each passing day, as my summer classmates gradually got staffed on deals and I didn’t,
my paranoia increased. I saw the summer passing before my eyes with nothing to show for it. When I finally got staffed, though,
my demeanor would quickly change from concern that I’d never get a chance to prove myself to realization that I was incapable
of proving anything. If ignorance was bliss, my beatific aura should have rivaled that of a magic bus full of Moonies. Unfortunately,
ignorance in this case felt more like sure professional suicide.
The call, when it came, was from Wex.
“Rolfe, I’ve got a deal for you. One of the financial sponsors we do work for is contemplating a buyout of a medical supply
company. They may want us to provide some high-yield financing for the transaction. We’re gonna need a model, comps, the whole
nine yards. I’ve got some information in my office here that should get
you up to speed. Why don’t you come grab it and take a look at it.”
This was great. A junk bond financing for a hostile takeover, I couldn’t have asked for anything better for my first deal.
I made my way into Wex’s office, where he gestured to a five-hundred-page stack of documents; the company’s public financial
filings, financial filings of competitors, research reports on the company, and research reports on the industry. I took it
back into my office and began to plow through it, line by line. I knew nothing about the medical supply industry and had so
much to learn…or so I thought.
Wex hadn’t been so kind as to brief me on one of the key precepts for the investment banking associate, “Thou shalt hand over
all documents and be exonerated.” Just because I was being given five hundred pages of documents in absolutely no way implied
that I was supposed to read five hundred pages’ worth of documents. Wex had merely supplied me with five hundred pages of
documents so that nobody would accuse
of not having given me all the relevant material. He was covering his ass and it was up to me to determine what really mattered
and what didn’t. I’d made my way through about a hundred pages of the stack when Wex called back two hours later.
“Rolfe, you done looking through that shit yet?”
“No, Wex, I’ve only gotten through about a quarter of it.”
“You’re gonna have to do better than that. We need a leveraged buyout model by late this afternoon. We’ve got a meeting with
Greg Weinstein at six o’clock. They don’t
call him the Widow for nothing, man. You better get it together. This guy eats summer associates for breakfast.”
I started to panic. Who was this guy they were calling the Widow? I’d built financial spreadsheets before in business school,
but I’d spent days, not hours, on them. I thought briefly about buying a van, dropping a tab of acid, and heading out for
Santa Cruz. “Wex, I don’t know if I can get it done that quick. You’ve got to remember that this is my first time trying this.”
“All right, Rolfe, look here. You summer guys aren’t supposed to work together, especially since you have to get up the learning
curve, but in this case I’m gonna make an exception because we’ve got some time pressure. I’ll get Troob. He’s an ex-analyst.
He’ll know how to build a model. In the meantime, you just focus on figuring out some simple transaction multiples ahead of
Relief flooded over me. I didn’t have to build the model. I’d been able to forestall inevitable failure. I sat back in my
chair and breathed a sigh of relief. Now I could spend the next few hours working out the transaction multiples. Problem was,
it slowly dawned on me, I didn’t know what a transaction multiple was. Fuck. There wasn’t going to be any easy way out of
this one, I’d have to suck it up and confess my ignorance. I called Wex back.
“Wex, it’s Rolfe. There’s a little bit of a problem here. I’m not sure that I know what a transaction multiple is. Can you
give me some help?” This was it—utter, abject humiliation. “I’m sorry, man, I feel like an idiot.”
Wex was silent momentarily, then he spoke. “Oh, Christ, what rock did they pull you out from under? I
don’t have time for this shit. Call Troob and ask him to explain it to you, all right? Don’t forget, we have to meet on this
at six tonight so you’d better get it together and figure this out.”
I called Troob and told him that he needed to explain to me what it was that I needed to do. There was silence on the other
end of the phone. This was a new one for him. He was also trying to secure a full-time offer, so why should he save my ass?
He came to my office and shook his head. He’d never seen a nincompoop of my magnitude. Perhaps, in his mind, I was testing
him, or more likely he worried that in some perverse way I could turn my idiocy against him like a weapon. Ignorance, after
all, could be the most dangerous weapon of all.
Troob knew the investment banking lingo. He tutored me like a third grader with flash cards, imparting his knowledge. I had
learned about finance theory in business school, but Troob stripped all the crap away and let me in on the stuff that really
mattered. “This is what you need to do. This is how you do it,” he instructed.
“Don’t be scared of the Widow,” Troob said as he schooled me. “I was told that he’s a little asshole with a big attitude,
but I interviewed with him and he’s not that bad. I’ll build you a good model. You just keep your mouth shut. Everything’ll
be OK. This deal’s never gonna get off the ground, anyway. You can take a quick look at the numbers and see that.”
My meeting at six that evening was a big success. I followed Troob’s advice. I sat quietly and nodded intelligently every
time the Widow spoke. I threw in a few random comments, ones that I hoped wouldn’t further betray my lack of investment banking