Net Net: Promoting innovation and managing change
Net Net: Promoting innovation and managing change

How Investment Bankers Are Like Sexy Pirates

Bryce Duffy | Stone | Getty Images

The always charming Jennifer Wright took a break from her day job as the editor-in-chief of to write a great piece in Salon about how she gave up her tennis whites a long time ago for a job as a shot girl in a pirate-themed bar.

She’s wonderfully self-deprecating about just how self-centered she was going into the job. She was convinced that she was smarter and more cultured than any other her shipmates.

She writes:

I was in love with my own incongruity — being a poetry-spouting college graduate in a pleather miniskirt. And I loved this notion of doing something at which I was entirely unsuited, and which seemed to go so much against my personality. I would never have said it at the time, but I very much believed I was above being a fun-loving pirate wench selling shots. I had read Meno and lived in cardigans and went to museums for fun.

I was a terrific little snob who thought she knew everything, and subsequently, I was about to learn a great deal.

As the tale goes on, she describes how she discovered that she wasn’t a very good shot girl. At least, not at first. It involved far more technique than she expected. Her manager would point out that, despite her tiny leather skirt and six-inch heels, she wasn’t as “sexy” as she needed to be.

More important, however, Wright discovered the other sexy pirates weren’t quite the philistines she had assumed they’d be.

It quickly became clear that I was not the first literate person to don a miniskirt. Sometime during that first week, I was hiding in the back room reading Margaret Atwood. I was sitting on the counter next to baskets of party mix because my feet hurt, which they did for the entirety of my shot-selling career. One cocktail waitress swept in, asked what I thought of Atwood’s novel “Oryx and Crake,” did a tricky little analysis where she compared it to “The Handmaid’s Tale,” mentioned some other female dystopian writers I’d never heard of, and then went out balancing a tray of shots on one hand.

As ridiculous as it sounds, that was the first time I became aware that clever people are buried in every nook and cranny of life. It is astonishing that no one pointed this out to me sooner. The girls working at the bar — they were so bright. Another shot girl had a journal that she filled with poetry that was — that rarest of all rare things — crisp and clean and very, very good. This was never a bar where everyone knew your name, but the cocktail waitresses came to know one another’s reading lists, and pitch letters, and audition schedules extremely well.

This is actually the experience of quite a lot of people I know who have gone to work at investment banks. But, you know, without the miniskirts.

Many young traders and investment bankers secretly harbor a view of their colleagues that is very close to what Wright assumed about the shot girls. Of course, unlike Wright, most Wall Street newcomers assume their colleagues will be smart. But, often enough, they also assume that they will be more or less uncultured.

Finistines, as one of my friends called them.

Oh, some will like fine art or theater. Some finistines might know a thing or two about sophisticated music. But they won’t really read literature for fun. Even their appreciation of art will be somewhat of an affectation, an air put on rather than a passion truly enjoyed.

And for many people this image is accurate. They are finistines.

But for a great many others inside of a place like Morgan Stanleyor Goldman Sachs , there’s a nagging feeling that they are faking it the other way. They are pretending to be passionate about all things Wall Street when what really excites them is a new translation of Don Quixote, the latest anthology of New Formalist poetry, or the idea of writing for an audience.

It takes some time — perhaps even years — before many discover that, in truth, there are plenty of non-finistines on Wall Street. Some of your fellow sexy pirates are also cardigan or tweedy museum goers. In fact, as you move up in your Wall Street career, the non-finistine aspects of your personality start to actually have value in your career. Because even the finistines desire to be known as cultured.

Unfortunately, the contrast in the early years between a life in which culture can be embraced and one in which finance overwhelms nearly everything can be too much for many people.

There’s one more thing that brings together the sexy pirates and Wall Street. As Wright puts it, “Of course, we were all there for the money.”

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