Cities of money

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  • Published 20081202
  • ISBN: 9780733323935
  • Extent: 264 pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm)

SYDNEY 2008: TO make it to the offices of a project team at Macquarie Capital in Sydney’s Martin Place, you must pass a security desk and swipe through a couple of card checks. The security gives rise to expectations about what you might find within, on the ‘shopfloor’ of Australia’s ‘millionaires factory’. The offices of Mallesons, Minter Ellison or of any of the city’s big legal firms feature corpulent displays of wealth – with million-dollar views and million-dollar fixtures – but here the surprise is the mundanity. Beyond the foyer, a featureless room with neither offices or partitions, just desks and monitors, is home – sometimes fifteen hours a day – to a team of forty or so men and women running the figures on takeover targets. The air is serious but convivial, as though one has stumbled upon guild artisans engaged in a purposeful yet enjoyable craft. The ‘cube farm’ ennui of Gervais and Merchant’s The Office and Mike Judge’s Office Space is unknown here.

The money, at least, makes it easier: it is hard to feel too disaffected as the zeroes are added to your pay cheque. In the 1980s, jailed inside trader Ivan Boesky (read Gordon Gecko) gave the finance industry its much-reproduced credo: ‘I think greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself’; however, something else seems to be happening at Macquarie Group Ltd and at other financial institutions. Although the money is good, and prospectively better, no one in this room is earning the $33 million that group boss Allan Moss pocketed in 2007. Instead, those who make up the mostly young team (the majority are under thirty-five) seem as much driven by a desire to do ‘well’, even if that is not quite the same as the desire to do ‘good’. Everyone wants their projects and their firm to succeed. These people were among the best in their year at universities all over Australia; they outdid two thousand or more applicants for a hundred or so positions. In the same way the British civil service once hoovered up the best Oxbridge graduates to run the Empire, now our most promising graduates flock to finance. This is corporate meritocracy at work, bringing with it a nerdish, nebbish – but not quite geeky – cool and a commitment to hyper-competence. And, while Macquarie looks more vulnerable in the current credit squeeze than it has over the past decade of its massive expansion, our money – or their money – seems to be in sure hands.

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