Michael's Essay: A Bay Street Apologia

The Street. It sounds like a book title or a movie. In New York, the Street is Wall. In Toronto, it's Bay. Depending on your political-slash-cultural DNA, The Street is either the extraordinary engine of financial wizardry and universal prosperity or the main thoroughfare of Pandemonium, Milton's capital city of Hell.

The Street. It sounds like a book title or a movie. In New York, the Street is Wall. In Toronto, it's Bay. Depending on your political-slash-cultural DNA, The Street is either the extraordinary engine of financial wizardry and universal prosperity or the main thoroughfare of Pandemonium, Milton's capital city of Hell.

On the Street, either Bay or Wall, young men in $2,500 Canali suits and $150 Zegna ties stare at screens for hours on end, hypnotized by the magical movement of money. They lunch at the best tables with thick linen napkins, heavy cutlery and crystal Scotch glasses. At night The Street hums to the purring of BMWs, Porches and Mercs carrying the young men and their six-figure salaries, bonuses not included, to million dollar condos and monster homes. These are the investment bankers and traders who work killing hours and make killer amounts of money. Some cynical passersby might suggest they make nothing else, and contribute nothing to the common weal but anxiety and chaos. Nevertheless, our business schools continue to turn out grads hungry to get into the game.

Every once in a while, someone pulls back the curtain in the Emerald City and we watch the wizard desperately pumping away at the devilish machinery. Last week, in the Op-Ed page of The New York Times, one of those young men, Greg Smith, wrote to tell the world why he was quitting the Wall Street firm of Goldman Sachs. Mr. Smith said he could no longer live with the "toxic and destructive" culture of the bank. He was utterly disillusioned that the firm put profits before anything else and called their clients "Muppets." His resignation set off something of a firestorm.

Goldman's stock dipped by a couple of bucks and the company and the street turned on Smith in a cold fury. One former colleague said Smith was having a mid-life crisis. Another said he was disgruntled because he never made more than $750 thousand a year. A few days after Mr. Smith threw his flash grenade into Wall Street, a Globe and Mail business writer named Tim Kiladze made a remarkably similar disclosure in the Report on Business. A young McGill graduate, Mr. Kiladze was hired as a junior trader at RBC Dominion Securities for what was, as he described it, a "dream job."

"For as long as I can remember," he writes, " I wanted to work in finance. The funny thing is that once I got what I thought I wanted, including a robust six-figure salary in my early 20s, I wasn't nearly as enamoured."

Bay Street's culture, he says, was rotten. What he found was an industry "unbelievably out of touch with reality." Mr. Kiladze is quick to point out that not all the denizens of the Street are emulating Gordon Gekko, the greed-crazed broker in the movie Wall Street.

"Most people in the office towers mean well, " he says. "The way they see it every now and then, they do something just a little offside, it can't be that bad. He says when everybody does something just a little wrong "it creates a hell of a mess." When he left the business and became a reporter, he left behind a huge salary with perks. He also, he says, left behind a sense "that I was living in denial."

Tim Kiladze's apologia is remarkably candid and I would say courageous. But he doesn't mention boredom. I can't think of anything more mind-numbing or emasculating than spending every minute of the working day and beyond dealing with how to make more money.
At the end of his story. Mr. Kiladze asks and answers an important question.

"Will Bay Street and Wall Street ever change? Probably not."

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