Authors: Faith Bleasdale
© Faith Bleasdale 2014
Faith Bleasdale has asserted her rights under the Copyright, Design and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
First published 2011 by Hodder
This edition published by Endeavour Press Ltd in 2014.
In the nineteenth century, three partners founded investment bank Seymour Forbes Hunt.
Starting from a small investment house, it has become one of the major banking players, not only in Europe, but also in the rest of the world. Today, twenty-one managing directors run and own the company. Its successful partnership formula makes it an attractive company to work for which is reflected by the high standard of its personnel. The headquarters are in the heart of London’s financial centre, the building is one of the oldest and most prestigious. It is a bank with a great history and a great future.
Excerpt from the official SFH publicity brochure.
Seymour Forbes Hunt is Britain
’s oldest investment bank and a British institution. At this time of recruitment, we are inviting you to participate in our success. As not only the oldest but also the most successful UK investment bank, we only pursue the best candidates to work with us. If you feel you wish to join us you must show us the commitment to the world of investment, the dedication and the intelligence we require. We in return will offer you a career with rewards that reflect our status. What we mean is that in return for the excellence that we demand, we offer an excellent package and unparalleled opportunities
The SFH presentation to the Cambridge undergraduate class of 2000.
Again, we show that we are a fighting force in the world of investment. Our results this year not only outstrip those of last year but also show that we are on the right track with our policies and management. We are one of the best this country has to offer and we give unparalleled results to our partners and to our clients. All of us in this room may congratulate ourselves on the successful completion of another year. We not only show we can make money, but we show that we are the best at making money, which after all is what we are all here for.
Peter Seymour, SFH
’s Chairman’s speech at the end of year managing directors” meeting.
As we see Seymour Forbes Hunt continuing to grow, we ask ourselves why it is so successful as a British investment bank. It shows an unblemished record in business and one that is hard to follow. A major force in this country, if not the world, again we must congratulate the private partnership which makes this bank a British institution.
Gerald Barr, of the Financial Times, reporting on the success of SFH.
Flotation is always a temptation for a company that shows success. However, this temptation is still being resisted by successful investment bank Seymour Forbes Hunt. The chairman, Peter Seymour issued the following statement:
“Why change something that works so well? Not only is the ownership of our partnership based on merit and hard work, but also we have an incentive to staff that few other institutions can offer. The management know how to manage this business, and as they are also the shareholders, they have a strong interest in ensuring that clients and staff alike are given both excellence as a goal and a reward.” Thus, SFH enters the year 2001 with the goal of avoiding becoming a public company and continuing with its tried and tested partnership.”
Gerald Barr from the Financial Times, on speculation that SFH may succumb to the pressure to go public.
“What does the City mean to you?”
“Pinstripes and Porsches.
Interview for the graduate programme at SFH:
“So, is it hard surviving in such a man’s world?” Jim asked, grinning.
No,” Ella Franke replied, through clenched teeth. She looked at the tall, dark-haired man standing in front of her and wondered why she kept paying this penance.
But don’t you feel guilty about the amount of money you earn? Look at the poverty in London, and you earning a fortune. It doesn’t seem right somehow,” Jim riposted.
’s heart-rate was increasing. ‘don’t you feel guilty about the torture you’re putting me through at forty quid an hour? Give that to the starving millions.” She gasped for breath. She should have known better than to try to put a long sentence together, especially when she was this close to collapse.
Jim seemed to ignore her last statement.
“Are you happy? Really happy? I mean, I bet you have a great life – nice flat, lots of clothes, fast car and, of course, a personal trainer, all the status symbols a woman like you needs. But does any of that make you happy?”
Ella took a deep breath. Her worst fear on the treadmill was
to lose her footing. Another deep breath. She studied Jim, big, bulky and smug. The worst type of man. He felt that in his role of trainer he could play God with her life. She knew that his other clients let him have that power, but she would not. Hence the hostility every time they met. Finally, she felt able to speak again. “For fuck’s sake, will you shut up? I am on a treadmill, not a couch, and you are supposed to be training me, not interviewing, counselling or annoying the hell out of me. If you feel compelled to make small-talk, please restrict it to, ‘Run faster’, or “You’re doing great.” Ella could feel herself overheating and the sweat pouring down her face was making her skin itch. She was exhausted.
“You, girl, crack me up. You’re just so funny. Let’s go faster.” And before Ella could retort he put the treadmill speed up even further and smugly watched her huff and puff her way through her final minute and a half.
Jim studied Ella closely. She was tall, black and thin. She had long legs, (which Jim often admired as he watched her run), a firm stomach and tiny boobs. Jim thought her boobs were the only things that let her down. Her thick black hair was cut into a shoulder-length bob. She had great hair. He quite fancied her,
but then he was just a man, and most men would. Her manner was something else. She was always aloof, uptight. She could be a real bitch. Most girls fell at his feet and Jim was pissed off that this one did not. That was why he enjoyed winding her up every Monday.
Water,” Ella whispered, as the treadmill finally came to a halt. She felt as if she had been running for hours, not just ten minutes. She wondered again why she put herself through this. She gulped the water noisily, and tried to make a mental note not to be rude to Jim again.
it-ups now. You’re looking a bit tummy-ish this week.”
Ella realised as she looked at her flat stomach and lay down in the sit-up position that she truly hated Jim.
She had been training with him once a week for almost three years – forty pounds for an hour of pure hell. He was rude, arrogant and he treated Ella with disdain. Ella hated him, and only put up with him because that was another way she could fit in. She longed to tell him where to stick his “positive mental attitude”, but she couldn’t and she didn’t know why.
When Ella started work at SFH, she had been encouraged to take corporate membership of the posh gym by the horrific human-resources woman who seemed to take Ella
under her wing. It had been her, too, who had encouraged Ella to use Jim. When Ella first started work, she had been so concerned to fit in that she took every suggestion on board and became the clichéd City type. She was more of a cliché than anyone else she knew: she had a trainer, she shopped at Gucci, she had a flat in the Docklands, she had a sports car, and she practically had ‘City’ tattooed on her forehead. And for her to continue in the job she loved, Ella felt that all these trappings were necessary, so, hate him as she did, it looked as if Jim was here to stay. ‘Oh, the things I do to keep my job,’ Ella thought, as Jim counted forty then told her that her exercise hell was finally over.
Ignoring his smile, she hissed goodbye and marched to the changing room.
It was full of the usual girls, those who were dedicated to looking after their bodies before work most mornings. Ella nodded curdy and took her towel out of her locker. As she peeled off her sweat-drenched shorts and T-shirt, she tried to justify being there. Five thirty in the morning, exercise for an hour, then in the office by seven. It was mad, she was mad. It wasn’t even as if she enjoyed or, more to the point, needed it. Glancing at her body as she walked to the shower, she knew she didn’t have an ounce of fat on her. Not like most of the girls in the gym, who had the Michelin Man’s spare tyres on them. No, this was corporate sucking-up and Ella was not terribly pleased with herself for it.
As the lukewarm water covered her aching body, she tried not to think too much about Jim. Instead, she focused on the day ahead. A tingle of excitement ran through her as she thought about the previous week
’s trading. The market had been volatile and many people had lost money, wrong-guessing the direction of stock. Not Ella: every move she had made had been spot on and she had come out up. She was looking forward to that today, hoping that the same buzz would fill her and that the unexplainable instinct she seemed to have for the job didn’t desert her. ‘If only you could see me now, Sammy’, she thought, and, for a minute, the sadness washed over her again.
She finished washing her hair, and prayed that her worries would be rinsed away along with the
dirty shampoo. She knew that it would take more than prayers.
As she walked back to her locker the girls were gossiping. Again, they smiled at her, not quite knowing if they should. Ella smiled back but said nothing. She had never engaged in their chat, and they no longer tried to include her. She dried her hair, pulled her Armani pinstripe suit from her suit bag, put on a little makeup and as the other girls were still getting ready she said goodbye and left. Leaving the gym, she walked up the hill to the office, stopping only to buy her usual espresso from Coffee Republic. The excitement returned as she walked through the front door of Seymour Forbes Hunt, and she put everything, apart from making money, well and truly out of her mind.
As soon as her alarm clock buzzed at her Virginia Bateman jumped out of bed. She peeled off her pyjamas and walked the short distance to her tiny bathroom, pausing on the way to flick the switch on the kettle. She stood in the shower for exactly five minutes. As she stepped out, shivering at the cold, she picked a towel from the rail, then dried herself. She pulled her bathrobe from the hook on the door and put it on. Wrapping her hair in a second towel, she walked back into her living area and made herself a cup of tea, then reached over to put on the television and sat in her small armchair, sipping the tea and concentrating on the news. When she finished the tea she went to the sink, washed her cup and left it on the draining-board. Her outfit for the day, a grey pinstripe trouser suit and crisp white shirt, was hanging on the front of her wardrobe waiting for her. She dressed, still watching the television, mentally noting anything said about the stock market. She turned away to dry her short hair, brushed it flat, and applied a little makeup: foundation, mascara and clear lip gloss. “I look professional,” she said to herself in the mirror, when she was ready.
Virginia always looked professional and prided herself on it. She was quite tall, about five foot seven, and a size ten. She had mousy brown hair, grey eyes and unremarkable features. She always looked the part, and although devoid of glamour, she was not unattractive. The only unattractive part of Virginia was the continual scowl – this scowl that had become so much a part of her
face that it was now part of her.
She picked up the towels and her bathrobe and hung them up in the bathroom. Then she collected her coat, her handbag and her helmet, and left her bedsit.
Virginia lived near Maida Vale, right address, wrong flat. Wrong because it wasn’t even a flat: it was a tiny studio apartment, which was called a studio because letting agents realised that ‘studio” sounded more romantic and inviting than “bedsit”, which is exactly what it was. Although technically it wasn’t, because it had its own bathroom.
When Virginia had moved to London two years ago, she had shared a house with four other people, strangers. It had felt like a student house because they were so messy. She hated it and lasted only two months before the dirt got too much for her. It was then that she decided she needed to live on her own and the
‘studio” was all she could afford. Renting a one-bedroom flat on her secretary’s salary was out of the question. “One day,” Virginia said to herself, as she did every day when she thought about her life.
As she walked down the street to where her scooter was parked the cold air blasted her. She smiled at it, as she did every day. Virginia loved her scooter, the freedom it gave her and the way she could get to work in a short time without suffering on the tube. It had been another sensible buy. She loved driving through London, with the wind in her face; it was the most invigorating way to begin the day.
She started it up and drove off into the quiet, dark streets. The roads were not busy and weaving in and out of the traffic encountered meant that she could get to work in no time at all. The drive to and from work was Virginia’s favourite part of the day.
The street that held her usual parking bay was deserted and she left her scooter in its usual place. She removed her helmet, put her lock on the wheels and took the four-minute walk to her office.
Her heart skipped a beat, as it always did, when she saw the building. Although not particularly big, it was old, grand and commanding. She felt it must be the most beautiful office building in London. The Seymour Forbes Hunt sign glistened in the grey air. She paused briefly, as she did every morning, and asked for an opportunity. Anyone who saw the professional-looking girl standing in front of an office sign mouthing, “Please give me a chance,” might have thought she was mad, but no one ever did.
Virginia loved SFH. It had been her first choice of bank to work at, and although she was unable to get the job she wanted, at least she had a job with the right company. Seymour Forbes Hunt was a British investment bank, and a British institution. She had read all about it before she left university. It had been founded in the late nineteenth century, and had remained a private partnership, shunning all attempts at takeover and flotation. The company was run by its twenty or so managing directors, who all owned part of it. Everyone who worked at SFH dreamt of becoming a managing director. Virginia just dreamt of being a salesperson.
Composing herself again, she pushed open the heavy doors, flashed her pass at the tired security guard and called the lift. Then she played the game she played daily: if the lift came in less than five seconds it would be a very good day; if it came in less than ten it would be an OK day; if it took longer it would be a horrible day. Thirty seconds later the lift arrived.
Virginia pushed the button for the fourth floor, the trading floor, her floor. She knew as she watched the other floors pass that this was definitely where she wanted to be, but in an entirely different job.
At twenty past six, she was at her desk. She was one of the first people on the floor and she liked this time. It gave her a chance to study the markets, watch the screens and feel that she was part of it – before Isabelle, her boss, came in and reminded her that she was nothing more than a secretary and destroyed a little bit more of Virginia’s hope.
Clara Hart was running late. Again. She cursed loudly as she surveyed the mess surrounding her, the knickers, socks and laddered tights that littered the floor. She grabbed the last pair of tights in the drawer and prayed that they were whole. Her prayers were answered. She went to the wardrobe and pulled out her last clean suit, a navy blue pinstripe skirt and jacket. She made a mental note to find her dry-cleaning tickets as she hauled herself into it. She pulled a brush through her long, matted blonde hair as, on cue, the buzzer went. She grabbed her coat and bag and ran to pick up the intercom. “Hello,” she said, knowing who it was.
Taxi,” a gruff voice replied. Her chariot had arrived.
The driver looked familiar; he had probably taken her to work thousands of times, or taken her somewhere, she was never sure. As she settled into the back seat she pulled her trusty compact out of her Prada handbag and applied her makeup like an expert. Clara had never quite got the hang of public transport, as her taxi firm had observed. Once she had put on her face, she grabbed her purse from her bag, counted out the fare and, as the cab pulled up outside the office of Seymour Forbes Hunt, she was ready.
She winked at the cab driver as she walked away and he smiled. She knew she still had ‘the charm’. Clara had discovered ‘the charm’ at an early age: not the brightest child in the world, she had used it to get her through prep school, her strict boarding-school, finishing-school and eventually to her job in sales at SFH. It always got her what she wanted, and allowed her to break every rule in the book to do so.