A few years ago some banker friends and I were thinking about creating a TV show.
Entourage meets The Office: all the glamor of movie stars and the celebrity lifestyle, but in cubicles rather than Hollywood.
But the outside world has never hated Wall Street more, and post-financial crisis there’s no way a drama like this could ever take off.
Plus, there’s another small problem: it would be impossible to make a show more awesome than Mad Men.
Don’t believe me?
Here are all the lessons you could learn from Don Draper himself:
1. Have a Great Name
You cannot underestimate the importance of having a name that rolls off the tongue: “Don Draper” is 100x better than “Dick Whitman,” so it’s no wonder that Don assumed someone else’s identity.
You’re judged on your name just like you’re judged on your appearance: so if your name sucks, change it or come up with a nickname or shortened version that’s easier to pronounce (just make sure it’s done officially so you can handle those pesky background checks).
Some people succeed without great names, but why take the chance?
2. Don’t Hook Up with Co-Workers
While Don has had dozens of affairs, up until season 4 he never crossed the hook-up-with-co-workers line.
And when he finally did cross the line, he hit rock-bottom and found himself more adrift than ever before.
You’re required to have affairs and random flings if you’re in finance – just make sure they’re not with co-workers or things will head south very quickly once it ends.
3. If You Do Hook Up With Co-Workers, Don’t Take the Marriage Seriously
So you just had a random fling with your secretary, suddenly decided that you’re in love, and proposed during a trip to California?
If Don can do it, you can too.
Remember that you cycle through wives or husbands approximately every 2 years in finance, so it’s perfectly fine.
With the amount of money you’ll make, alimony is almost an afterthought anyway.
4. Don’t Take Your Employment Contract Seriously, Either
Don didn’t even have a contract with Sterling Cooper until everyone realized he needed one, midway through season 3.
And even when he “signed” it, he didn’t use his real name and then broke the contract to leave and start his own firm anyway.
The role of contracts in investment banking is similar: they’re just a formality.
5. Take 4-Hour, 3-Martini Lunches
Has Don ever not gotten a hotel room with his mistress-of-the-moment after a 3-martini lunch?
You think you have to be available for clients and senior bankers 24/7, and that’s usually true…
…except for when you get that buy-side offer and are on your way out the door anyway.
Remember that no one cares about you at a bank: especially when you’re about to move on anyway, do the bare minimum to get paid and slack off as much as possible.
4 hours may seem like a long time for lunch, but if you’re leaving anyway and all the senior bankers are gone, who would notice?
6. If Conrad Hilton Calls You at 11 PM, Do Whatever He Says
And no, not just because his great-granddaughter is Paris Hilton.
If you have a high-maintenance client who’s worth millions of dollars and demands to speak to you 24/7, you better do whatever he says.
That includes getting his dry cleaning, dressing up as a clown at his kid’s birthday party, redecorating his house, and meeting him in the middle of the night just because he’s bored.
Remember, clients and work come before everything else – even if your wife is about to divorce you and your kids don’t remember who you are.
7. Exploit Loopholes for Personal Gain
So you just found out that your own firm is being acquired by a much larger company and you’d never want to work there.
Simple solution: just do what Don did and gather up everyone important and fire yourselves before the transaction goes through.
If your bank is actually getting acquired, the acquiring bank is smart enough to prevent that specific scenario with the reps and warranties in the definitive agreement…
…But there are always other loopholes you can exploit.
Send out emails late at night to feign busyness, work hard during your first and last month and slack off the rest of the time – do whatever it takes to get top-tier bonus.
8. Keep Stacks of Alcohol in Your Cubicle
Bankers may not drink alcohol out in the open anymore like advertising guys did in the 60s, but if you work 100 hours a week you’re going to need alcohol and drugs – ideally cocaine – at some point.
Rather than running out to buy overpriced bottles constantly, keep a stash hidden away in your cubicle.
Once the support staff and senior bankers are gone, you have free reign to do whatever you want.
So if it’s 3 AM and your balance sheet isn’t balancing, just pull out your Jack, take a swig, and hope for a moment of clarity.
9. Don’t Lie on Background Check Forms
Don gets away with assuming someone else’s identity for years, but it finally catches up with him in season 4 as North American Aviation, a new client, demands background checks on everyone so they can receive security clearances.
And if you’ve been lying about your identity for years, background checks are the last thing you want to think about – so Don forces his company to drop the client.
You might think that’s bad – but if you lie on your own background check forms, something much worse will happen: you’ll get your offer rescinded and you might even have your career destroyed with the right chain reaction of forwarded emails.
10. Think on Your Feet
So the government has started telling everyone that cigarettes kill you – and your top client is Lucky Strike.
They put you on the spot in front of everyone else and ask you how to address these claims and market the product.
Simple solution: avoid the issue altogether. “It’s toasted.” – everyone else’s tobacco is poisonous, but yours is special.
Remember that investment banking is a sales job: it’s less about analysis and more about selling, relationships, and thinking quickly.
Even as an analyst you’ll be put on the spot all the time when your MD or VP ask about your work or for specific numbers – so you better be prepared.
11. If You Get Arrested for Drunk Driving, Get Your Most Trusted Friend to Bail You Out
After indulging in alcohol yet again, Don finds himself in a wrecked car and in police custody along with his “female companion” of the moment.
So he does what any reasonable businessman would do: he calls Peggy, the one person he can trust to bail him out without telling anyone else at Sterling Cooper.
You should also have a “designated friend” to bail you out, because you’ll probably be arrested for drugs or alcohol at least a few times.
Just make sure it happens after you’ve already gone through background checks.
While you don’t want to follow everything Don does (e.g. sending a major announcement about your firm to the NY Times without consulting anyone else first), you can pick up a lot from him.
Advertising in the 1960s was just like finance in the 2000s: the most prestigious and highest-paying industry.
And if Don were in business today, he’d surely be a Partner at a bank or PE firm – so watch Mad Men and take notes the whole time.