|by George Gurley
Euan Rellie, the co-founder and senior managing director of BDA Partners, is probably the only investment banker or person in New York City who doesn’t mind being called a socialite. He prefers “fashion banker” and once told me that he is “the pussycat of Wall Street.” It had been several years since we’d done a night out. We ran into each other at Michael’s on a Tuesday and made plans to meet Thursday, first for drinks at Cookshop in West Chesea and then dinner nearby at Salinas, a Spanish tapas restaurant, with ten of his junior staffers (average age: 26). From there we ended up at the Blond, a nightclub in the 11 Howard hotel in SoHo, then a West Village bar, back up to West Chelsea (1OAK, Electric Room), and then the two of us called it quits around 2 a.m.
Six hours earlier, Euan, wearing a tight gray Rag & Bone t-shirt and Levis, was wandering around inside Cookshop and the outdoor tables. He gave up and ordered a Negroni.
The last guy I interviewed for a job asked me, “What kind of bonuses can you guarantee me over the first three years of my career, with BDA?” “You’re 25 years old! It seems a little extravagant demand,” I said. He didn’t want the job because I couldn’t guarantee him anything. I think it was a tiny bit presumptuous but I think that’s the way that people behave these days. On the one hand we’re happy that people ask for what they want. On the other hand, I remember being grateful for having a job. I said thank you very much when I got my first bonus as a banker … thank you very much. I didn’t negotiate. You need to prove yourself first and also you’re learning something which is a value to you, not only to your company.
GG: What were you like at that age?
ER: I was the cheekiest bugger 22-year-old investment banker that ever lived, but I had nothing on the people who are coming up these days. We at BDA do not pay Goldman Sachs salaries. We’re doing quite well at the moment so we’re gradually able to increase our compensation level. We’re an investment banking firm that connects Asia with the rest of the world.
There are three big financial areas in the world: USA, Europe, and Asia. It used to be we helped U.S. and European companies find deals to do in Asia, businesses to buy in Asia, and now it’s gone the other way. Asian companies want to come to the West. But we also help people sell businesses when they think a buyer might be an Asian buyer. We do 20 deals a year, about 100 to 300 million dollars value each. 80 employees. We’re getting going, we’re getting going.
In our New York office where we have 10 employees we have people who speak Hindi, Mandarin, Brooklyn, Italian, Japanese, Korean. That’s the fun of it, we have lots of different languages and most of the people working at our company are not quite as entitled. But I hate it when these entitled people come in to interview because I think it might pollute--I think Stephen [Etna, a BDA analyst] might be saying to me soon: “Dude, I’m going to need a little better bonus than that.” Ready for dinner?
GG: Sure, let’s go. Anything memorable happen today?
ER: I bicycled home quickly from work on a Citibike and accidentally took a photograph of the beautiful twilight on Seventh Avenue, slammed the brakes on with my left hand, the front brake, pirouetted over, and all the bystanders were horrified. I wasn’t wearing a helmet, which is legal, not advised on Times Square, but I do it. A few of my clients have told me “you’re very stupid, you’re going to hurt yourself.” I think this is really dumb but some people say if you don’t wear a helmet you’re more careful because you’re naturally protective of your head. I wasn’t being very naturally protective of my head.
I discussed [the bike accident] with my family; I called it a “stupid dad lucky dad” story, and they laughed. Lucy was a bit upset because she doesn’t want me to die--mainly because I’m a very productive and useful dad. I do book rental cars and the plane flights and everything. If there was no me she would have a much less fulfilling and productive life.
GG: So business has been good lately?
ER: Surprisingly good. Although I’m not a Trump supporter by any description, I have to concede that the markets don’t hate him as much as I do. They might actually quite like him. And I’m with the Resistance so it pains me to say that. Today I quite like it, now Trump’s gone bipartisan. I’m warming to him. I’d rather have Mike Bloomberg. He’s Mike Bloomberg with bad hair. Trump’s not really a businessman, he’s a snake oil salesman. Different subject!
So we were approached a year ago by a bank from Japan called Development Bank of Japan which is a $150 billion Japanese bank a hundred percent owned by the Japanese government and they said they would be very interested in investing in BDA. Because Japanese companies want to grow internationally and these DBJ guys just kept seeing us on deals.
After a very long roundabout discussion we told them we didn’t want them to buy a big stake in the company because we’re growing it and we didn’t want to dilute ourselves, but we have sold them a five percent stake in our company. It’s not just in cash we get it because we're going to do business deals with them. They are introducing clients to us, they are also lending us money and investing money to back Japanese companies to grow globally. We have a backer, we’re doing M&A deals and now we have a strategic partner — DBJ — which is a little weird to think that the company that we started 21 years ago is now partly owned by Japan.
|GG: What does it take to become a fashion banker?
ER: That’s easy. The first thing you have to come up with these days is a hashtag for yourself. I often hashtag myself “the fashion banker.” Joking aside, if you say it enough times eventually people believe it. Quite a few people have come up to me and said, I know you, you’re the fashion banker.
GG: Are all of your employees hungry and burning with ambition?
ER: We like our clients to believe that. We’re a little more levelheaded than that, aren’t we? Quietly diligent! Always thinking about diligence, never letting our guard down, and behaving improperly. Never putting a step out of place. You try to put the client first.
GG: Back to being a fashion banker ...
ER: Hashtag THE fashion banker. My friend Doug Hand is now calling himself hashtag The Fashion Lawyer, which is really annoying. He’s completely ripped off my idea! I’d file a lawsuit but I’d have to hire Doug so it’s difficult. You’re supposed to be discreet as an investment banker.
GG: [to Maria Xing, an analyst at BDA]: What’s a good question to ask your boss right now?
MX: Why do you think having an online presence is so relevant now? Why is it important?
ER: Does being socially prominent ever damage your investment banking career? I don’t think it’s important but I don’t have a therapist. Genuinely, honestly, I’ve never been to a psychiatrist in my life. Most investment banks ban their employees from tweeting. I self-censor a tiny bit but not much, to tell you the truth. Once in a blue moon I will delete a tweet. Sometimes when I get really anti-Trump.
I remember one particular case where we had quite a dry, rather conservative Midwestern client and the guy said to me, “My wife saw a photo of you in Town & Country,” at some fancy fashion Vogue party or something, “and she is really impressed.” And I know this is not the standard way to behave. I know lots of bankers who will say to the Billy Farrell photographer, I don’t want to be in the picture. I embrace it because although I care about my company and my work I don’t care about it much more than everything in my life. I’m not subjugating my life to my career.
Point one, investment bankers are generally pompous, take themselves too seriously, are dry and conservative, and if you can project a more relaxed, confident air — actually it doesn’t generally do you any harm. Point two, we live in a different world now where some of the old rules are breaking down. I can get a little bit carried away with my liberal politics but generally speaking I’m quite confident to discuss my point of view and I’m not ashamed of it. Most of my opinions I think are fairly moderate. I can be provocative by making fun of people and myself … but I hope I’m not insensitive.
|GG: Do you tweet when you drink?
ER: Yeah. I hold back, rein it in a tiny bit. If I’m getting tipsy I slow it down on the social media. I do have a hell of a lot of self-control. I’ve been married for 16 years and I’ve never fooled around with another woman in that way — that’s my self-control. I thought about it once or twice.
GG: More champagne. Wow.
ER: Veuve Cliquot, man. We’re celebrating DBJ! We’re very proud to be associated with Japan. Thank you for your help in the deal, Margaret [Albright, BDA’s operations manager], Stephen, Alex [Ditchfield, BDA’s vice-president] ...
ER: Never in my life. The only time that I’ve ever seen a psychiatrist in a professional setting was when my wife thought our marriage was going badly. So we went to see this therapist who said, “I’m not even sure you two want to get divorced.” I said, “I definitely don’t want to.” And Lucy said, “Well, I don’t want to either but I think he’s been quite annoying lately.” And I said, “I’ll try not to be so annoying in the future.” And the therapist said, “I think we’re done!” It was kind of productive. My wife thinks it’s a good idea, that I would benefit from therapy, and she's never met a therapist that she didn’t want to consult with. I used to talk to my cab driver, now I talk —
GG: [to the junior staffers]: What else should I ask Euan? ... Okay, what’s the most embarrassing time you’ve ever had with your employees?
ER: I don’t remember ever having been embarrassed. In Singapore they have a phrase called “totally not shy” and they always accused me of being totally not shy. Maybe it’s thick-skinned or something or open-minded — I’m aware of my own flaws, and I’ve made a fool of myself occasionally — often. But I’m not really embarrassed by much. I’m hashtag TheFashionBanker! Nothing to be ashamed of. What have we done that’s bad?
I was embarrassed by that bike accident. I was on my Citibike, photographing the sky, trying to get the perfect Instagram shot. It looks good, but sadly the light in front of me changes, it goes red. And it’s rush hour so everybody is streaming across, so I think I better slow down. So I squeeze the front brake, the front wheel locks, and I literally go over the front of the handlebars. My feet I swear — Margaret’s not even interested in the story! So my legs are in the air and I literally go over the top and I land on my back. Luckily I’m wearing my backpack which softens the blow. Everyone’s horrified and about ten people come running over: Are you okay? Are you okay? And that was embarrassing because I was fine.
|GG: Any other highlights from this week?
ER: Hold on, I’m looking back at my Instagram to find out. I think I stayed in Monday night. Tuesday was a guys night out, six guys. After the Arcade Fire concert at Madison Square Garden we went to Billy Marks, the last dive bar left. Racially and socio-economically diverse, members of the transgender community.
Poppy Delevingne hosted it. She’s Carla Delevingne’s sister and a model and an actress — she’s in the movie. It was really nice to see Poppy and I sat next to Shoshanna (Lonstein) Gruss who’s absolutely lovely and divorced now. So nice. So there were a lot of people there. I talked to Hal Rubenstein and Rod Manley from Calvin Klein. We had a couple drinks there afterwards and I went home.
GG: I’m very impressed with everyone here. Such good people. Earnest, charming, attractive millennials. Why do you think they like working for you rather than a more corporate job?
ER: We like people who are smart, technically strong, but I want them to reflect me and our firm — we’re very communicative. We like people who are quite punchy and have cross-cultural skills and are not narrow bankers. We give them a significant amount of responsibility very early on, so that means exposure to clients early in their career and tons of travel, domestic and international. It’s fun for them to do that.
GG: This is fun. Let’s go to the Blond, the best nightclub in town. It’s run by the guys who did the Beatrice Inn. Let me text Angelo and Julio.
ER: Oh, by the way it’s Fashion Week and I’m The Fashion Banker but I’m not sure Fashion Week is what it used to be, to tell you the truth. Maybe I’m too old now, but I’d rather go out with six friends or this group here.