If I met John LeFevre back when I worked on Wall Street, I'm not sure if we would have been friends or enemies, but we definitely would have partied together. And in his new book, "Straight to Hell: True Tales of Deviance, Debauchery and Billion-Dollar Deals," there's one obvious theme: He's not trying to make any new friends.
LeFevre was thrust into the spotlight last year when he was outed as the villainous mastermind behind the satirical and wildly popular Twitter account @gselevator, which chronicled comments that were supposedly "overheard in the Goldman Sachs elevators." (Satirical being the operative word – LeFevre never actually worked at Goldman Sachs.)
The book isn't, in fact, about the Goldman elevator, but rather it chronicles LeFevre's seven-year career at Citigroup in New York, London, and Hong Kong, mostly working in debt syndicate.
In some memoirs, the author tries to pull back the curtain to provide a glimpse into a particular time and place, but LeFevre attempts to rip the drapes right off. He gives a naked look at how business in the world of finance is conducted. LeFevre captures the "Glengarry Glen Ross"-type of attitude that some believe is required to be successful on Wall Street. He doesn't shy away from witnessing and partaking in some of the seedier antics of sharing non-public information, price-fixing, misogyny, drug use and good old-fashion cut-throat office politics.
He speaks from a unique vantage point as a prolific syndicate manager in Asia working with clients, bankers, traders, issuers, analysts and other deal makers from every relevant investment bank on the street. And at every turn he hammers home the point that he was surrounded by self-serving unethical vultures that put their interest ahead of their clients; although most of this shouldn't come as a shock.
If you're looking for another "Wolf of Wall Street," you'll be sadly disappointed. We all know Jordan Belfort worked closer to MALL STREET than he did WALL STREET, whereas LeFevre had a distinguished career at one to the top investment banks in the industry – albeit mostly overseas.
Here's an insider's take on an inside Wall Street book:
- Who really cares that he never worked at Goldman Sachs? The culture is the same everywhere.
- Bankers try — but don't succeed at — partying as hard as traders.
- This book chose to "overweight" the villainous sector.
- You may not like LeFevre's tact, but he knows what he's talking about.
There were many memorable moments and quotable one-liners throughout the book, such as an insanely embarrassing moment where he has to go the bathroom on a private plane, out in the open, next to his bosses and peers:
"I reach down and pull up the privacy screen with only seconds to spare before I erupt. It's an Alka-Seltzer bomb, nothing but air and liquid spraying out in all directions—a Jackson Pollock masterpiece."
And there are plenty of business-related anecdotes, where LeFevre cops to wrongdoing such as attending a secretive price-fixing conference in a Hong Kong hotel room.
I enjoyed reading "Straight to Hell," but, at times, it felt like a slideshow. Along the way, I'd get bits and pieces of the culture adding to the overall arc, but just as soon as a new character was introduced, they were off to club a baby seal and—poof! — they were gone, never to be heard from again. In one way, that allows the reader the ability to pick up the book, open it to any random chapter and read. All of the chapters can stand on their own as short stories.
It's a strange mix of literary flare and frat bro humor, but somehow he makes it work. By purchasing this book, LeFevre dares you to pull his finger. It's up to the reader to decide whether to laugh or not — and just how deep of a whiff they want to take.
Commentary by Turney Duff, a former trader at the hedge fund Galleon Group. Duff chronicled the spectacular rise and fall of his career on Wall Street in the book, "The Buy Side," and is currently working on his second book, a Wall Street novel. He is also featured on the CNBC show, "The Filthy Rich Guide." Follow him on Twitter @turneyduff.