In an earlier post, I discussed how my decision making was flawed when I decided upon my university program. This would come back to haunt me later. But at the same time that I was in university, I was looking for a job in England in the financial services sector. Now the financial services sector at that time (the late 1960s), was populated in the more senior positions by the upper class. It was a training ground for their future role as part of the power structure. After all, financial services were the key, you control the money, you control the country.
At that time, there was a privileged group of smallish, privately owned banks that were called accepting houses – an accepting house was a primarily British institution which specialized in the acceptance and guarantee of bills of exchange thereby facilitating the lending of money. They took on other functions as the use of bills declined, returning to their original wider function of merchant banking:
The ‘Accepting Houses’ in the City of London had representation in Westminster by the Accepting Houses Committee which ensured policy coordination between them, the UK Treasury and the Bank of England. Bills endorsed by members of the Committee were originally eligible for rediscount at the Bank of England, although this right was eventually extended to other banks in the UK and abroad. The term accepting house was more of an indication of status rather than function.
Examples of UK accepting houses were Hambros Bank, Hill Samuel, Morgan Grenfell, Rothschild, J. Henry Schroder Wagg, Arbuthnot Latham, Seligman Brothers and S.G. Warburg. Most accepting houses were absorbed into larger banking entities during the 1980s and 1990s.
These were very prestigious financial institutions to work at, as they wielded power well in excess of their size given that the ranks of the accepting houses were populated to a considerable extent by the English upper class. Hill Samuel, Morgan Grenfell, and Hambros were well known UK merchant banking organizations.
Here I thought that I could “leapfrog” the system by working in an accepting house and “pole vault” myself into a whole new class. So I began a letter writing campaign to see if I could find a position at one of the accepting house. Now, remember that this is the late 1960s. Communication even by telephone was expensive, so you end up with a lot of letter writing. Letters take some time to cross the Atlantic and it takes time to get a response (having said that, the Post Office was a heck of a lot more efficient then than now. I can’t imagine how long it would take to send a letter and receive an answer by Canada Post now). So weeks would pass and the whole process made me incredibly anxious (more on that later).
I was angling for a summer job and finally got a bite from an accepting house called Antony Gibbs and Sons. Not a top player, but it got me in the door.
I finally closed the deal and at the end of the semester headed off to jolly old England. What an experience. I arrived, and with difficulty found a hotel. I found out subsequently that London, England is a pretty big place. Finding a place to live would be a real challenge. When I started work, I still did not have a place to live. It all fell apart after that. After struggling and not finding a place, I asked at work whether someone there would help me find a somewhere to live. The answer was no. So what did I do? Packed my bags and headed home to spend the summer working at the then Head Office of the Hudson’s Bay Company which was my regular summer job.
This was really one of the stupidest decisions I ever made. STUPID. Really, after so much effort, so much time and so much success, I threw it all away. At some point, I would have found a place to live. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to go from the ordinary to the extraordinary. How could I have done that?
Pretty simple. No plan. No budget, no thinking, knee-jerk reaction. I would have vaulted ahead of my peers with something on my resume that was really beyond description. And most important, it was a sign of incredible immaturity. I had developed my plan, executed my plan and threw it away.
So what was the learning here? Career mismanagement at its best. I have no explanation that can rationalize or explain this incredibly stupid move.
Learnings going forward from that point, none. But as part of my career and life plan, I should have stuck it out. That’s the point. Commitment. Carrying out your plan and overcoming roadblocks.
Think of it. A third-year university student having executed the impossible. Overcoming geographical challenges and securing a position that many of the locals would have died for. Found a job in a time of communication challenges. My goodness! There are no words to explain the career damaged caused. And perhaps more importantly, the damage to my own self-esteem. Immeasurable.