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Review: 'Monkey Business' -- by two of the monkeys

"Monkey Business: Swinging Through the Wall Street Jungle"
By John Rolfe and Peter Troob
Warner Books, 273 pages, 2000

Review: 'Monkey Business' -- by two of the monkeys

In this story:

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(CNN) -- The plight of the United States' most exploited workers has inspired many great books, fiction and non-fiction. Upton Sinclair's 1906 "The Jungle" dealt with horrific working conditions in a turn-of-the-century Chicago meat-packing plant. John Steinbeck's 1939 "The Grapes of Wrath" followed the hardscrabble existence of "Okies" working the fields of California. Alec Wilkinson's "Big Sugar: Seasons in the Cane Fields of Florida" explored the plight of Caribbean migrant workers in sugar cane fields.

Now we have "Monkey Business: Swinging Through the Wall Street Jungle," John Rolfe and Peter Troob's searing exposé of the life of investment bankers. Listen to Troob describe efforts by honchos at Donaldson, Lufkin Jenrette (DLJ) -- where the authors worked -- to woo him for a job:

graphic Are you surprised to hear careers in a Wall street investment bank described so irreverently as they are in this book?

Nope, I think everybody knows that excess pay and light workloads are part of the scene.
Some of it, maybe the coarseness, surprises me. The description of a basically shallow profession does not.
Yeah, I guess I'd hoped that even though the goal in such work is strictly money, the players might have a higher regard of themselves as people and careerists.
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"They took me to a strip bar and we spent tons of dough, and then we went to a steak place, ate great steaks and drank expensive bottles of wine. We finished the evening off with glasses of port, cheesecake, cigars and a discussion. They really poured it on and I was loose as a goose and eating it all up. This was what I had imagined banking was all about."

After he accepted the position, Troob writes: "They sent me plane tickets and had a car pick me up at the airport. I stayed at the Four Seasons and was told to order as much room service as I wanted."

This was followed by the DLJ training program. "On the first day of training we did nothing," the authors write. "At the end of the first day of training, the investment banking machine handed out corporate limousine account cards, beepers and cellular phones. It made us feel like investment bankers should feel. Like superstars."

And there's more:

"Our first full-year compensation after signing on full-time at DLJ following business school was about eight times what the average college graduate earns at his first job, and we could expect that compensation to double every two years.

"We traveled the country by private jet, stayed in the best hotels, and ate in the best restaurants. Eventually, though, we realized that the compensation levels and the perks weren't in place because being an associate in investment banking was a great job. They were in place because the job sucked."

So quit your bitching, slaughterhouse slackers. Show some gumption, migrant worker weenies. Life could be worse. You could have been subjected to the horrors of a career in investment banking.

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That's what the authors did while still in their tender 20s. Troob's childhood in wealthy Scarsdale, New York, and education at Duke University and Harvard Business School apparently didn't prepare him for the rough-and-tumble world of investment banking. Ditto for Rolfe's education at the Wharton School of Business.

A career on Wall Street may indeed be a bitter disappointment if you grow up pampered and privileged and discover that the working world is rife with politics, double-dealing, menial tasks and -- worst of all -- long hours.

The authors of "Monkey Business" paint a pretty tawdry picture of Wall Street investment banking, and at one of the country's most highly-respected houses. Do you think a similarly eye-opening treatment could be made of the profession you're in?

"A summer that we had thought was going to be filled with social engagements, weekends in the Hamptons and dating turned out to be a summer filled with work," Rolfe grouses of their first jobs at DLJ while on summer break from their respective prestigious business schools.

Almost as an afterthought, he adds, "However, we were paid well -- about $12,000 for 10 weeks of work, the first two weeks of which we did nothing."

The reader is left to marvel at the grit, the pluckiness of this intrepid twosome.

In "Monkey Business" the authors suggest that readers will get an inside look at a career replete with debauchery and deceit. To hear them tell it, they escaped from an almost unimaginable hell.

"Like virgins defiled, we can't possibly rid ourselves of the scourge to which we knowingly submitted," they write in the crude hyperbole that permeates this book.

But in fact, they describe a lot of incidents that occur in any workplace. Investment banking sounds for the most part like a career full of the sort of chicanery and stupid stunts that are found in other lines of work.

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The authors devote three pages, for example, to describing an obscenity-laced diatribe from a managing director of DLJ they called Bubbles. This is unique to investment banking? They tell about another company honcho who's a dance club habitué -- he maintained a database on strip joints around the world. This is quirky, but not necessarily representative of all investment bankers.

In fact, the most shocking thing in "Monkey Business" is the seeming naïveté of Rolfe and Troob. They express disillusionment when they learn that other young men and women in their DLJ training class, like them, have been told they were special.

And they're saddened to learn that, lo and behold, they and their colleagues are easily replaceable. "We exited, and immediately a new, fresh-faced young banker replaced us and nobody missed a beat," Troob writes.

Welcome to reality.

Maybe Rolfe and Troob's supposed innocence shouldn't come as a surprise given the puerile, frat boy tenor of their tome.

•  "He had also probably kissed more ass than a toilet seat sees in a year."

•  "... froze up like a born-again preacher in a Tijuana whorehouse."

•  "... as painful as getting a steaming hot chocolate enema."

To be sure, the Wall Street characters Rolfe and Troob describe are shallow, vain and greedy. But after reading "Monkey Business," the reader is forced to conclude that Troob and Rolfe are too.

"We talked about the big money and the time we'd have to spend it. We discussed our grand plans of taking the New York social scene by storm. The parties, the big life. We talked about being hotshot investment bankers at the hottest firm on Wall Street. We were stroking each other and it felt good."

Such idealism. Sounds like the investment bankers and the authors deserved each other.



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