The chairman comes up with a novel solution to seasonal incentives
Spring is just around the corner. I know this not simply because my pile of Valentine's Day-related press releases continues to grow at an unflatteringly disproportionate rate to my 'pile' of Valentine's Day cards, but also because of the unusual sound emanating from the offices of the insignificantly-sized investment company SmallBlue Planet.
I say 'unusual' but this is only to the uninitiated. Ask me what the sound is and even without visiting the scene I would be able to tell you it is of dozens of fund managers whistling either Colonel Bogie's march from Bridge on the River Kwai or the theme tune from The Great Escape. That ' and the occasional squeal as one of the more adventurous types gets caught up in the barbed wire.
For while other investment houses may be content to ' or feel powerless to do anything other than ' sit back and watch their investment managers take their bonuses and promptly head for a competitor or a hedge fund, SmallBlue Planet is a little more, let's say, proactive.
The chairman has never seen it as particularly good business to pay a manager a huge amount of cash for work that's been done months ago, especially as in this day and age he reckons it almost acts as an incentive for that manager to seek employment elsewhere. In fact he still can't quite believe that such behaviour is actually legal.
But how to prevent any defections? At a hastily convened meeting between the chairman and the managing director, ideas such as hiring 47 different private detectives to shadow all SmallBlue Planet's fund managers were variously dismissed as too costly, too impractical or indeed no guarantee of success.
In the end, however, the answer was obvious ' at least to the chairman and the MD. It had to be office imprisonment, a little-known practice developed by New York corporate lawyers and similar to house arrest. Instead of being forbidden to leave your home, you find yourself holed up at your desk for far, far longer than the traditional working day.
Three-line whipped to attend a special company meeting one morning in January, SmallBlue's entire complement of fund managers exited to find that the lifts could descend no further than the third floor, the fire-escapes were locked and all windows sealed from the seventh floor down. (The chairman and MD reasoned anyone prepared to shin down a rope made of those long industrial bathroom towels from any higher than that probably deserved the break.)
Invited to take a look at the new regime, I couldn't get there fast enough ' and was soon glad I had made the effort. After all, it's not every day you see office security guards armed with pitchforks stop a van as it leaves the premises only for two men in suits to jump out of the back and sprint back whence the van had come.
The chairman met me in reception. 'The monocle's a new look,' I said. 'Silence,' came the unexpectedly curt reply. 'We have only agreed to allow you on the premises as a representative of the Red Cross so that the world can see we are not mistreating the prisoners ¦ no ¦ our valued employees.
'Each has freely agreed to participate in an intense in-house seminar of an as-yet-to-be-determined duration. While they are here, they are being treated in a culturally appropriate manner with three-course lunches, plenty of alcohol, live football matches and videos of lap-dancers. We have even set up a special 0898 number where they can listen to highly skilled actresses sounding as if they desperately want to buy a technology fund. Do you have any questions?'
'Apart from what that riding crop is for and that bit about the Red Cross, only one,' I said. 'Am I not right in thinking that it's always been company policy for all employees to have to defer their bonuses in return for the promise of a fortune in a decade or so?'
'Your point being?' said the chairman. 'That your managers are therefore unlikely to take part in the seasonal sport of grabbing the money and running,' I said. 'So, always assuming they wanted to, you could actually let them go home to their families.' 'It's a valid point,' said the chairman, removing his monocle. 'Excuse me while I make a call to security.'
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