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Books

January 19, 2009

Ball-Busting Bankers, and Other Tales

Amit Chatwani, scribe and skewerer of New York City's economic overclass, mulls the end of bottles, models, and the young men who love them.

Vincent Valk

Amit Chatwani is not a banker, though he does play one on the internet. Since 2005, he has chronicled the (possibly bygone) era of "M&A, sailing, modeling, squash, and aggressive spending” through his blog, The Leveraged Sell-Out. Like so many other niche humor sites with a devoted following, Chatwani's writing has jumped from the blogosphere, and last fall he published his first book, Damn, it Feels Good to Be a Banker: And Other Baller Things You Only Get to Say If You Work On Wall Street.

Amit Chatwani
"In any case, my blog should have been a harbinger of the apocalypse."

Amit Chatwani

While Chatwani himself doesn't come close to matching the blithe arrogance of "Logan," his young financier alter-ego, one can see where the two intersect; when I meet him, he alternates between discussing his exploits on a recent business trip to Vegas and commenting on the absurdity of a lifestyle of which he is both participant and satirist.

The coinciding of the publication of Chatwani's paean to the superficial life with the implosion of the country's biggest, baddest investment banks renders the humor in his book that much more acute, or that much more maddening, depending on where you stand. In the following interview, Chatwani, who is 26 and lives in the Manhattan's East Village, discusses the irony of kicking financiers while they're down, the challenges of going from blogger to author, and whether Wall Street excess will someday make a comeback. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can hear Chatwani, along with Daniel Gross and Katy Lederer, at Gelf's Non-Motivational Speaker Series in New York on Thursday, January 22.

Gelf Magazine: Do you think the book is still relevant in light of the financial crisis?

Amit Chatwani: Sure—I don't think every book needs to be written about something that is currently going on. Obviously, the mentality and industry dynamics characterized by DIFGTBAB have changed significantly. But at the same time, they were a product of the same excess that created this financial crisis. If anything, mainstream awareness and curiosity about the finance industry is much greater now. In any case, my blog should have been a harbinger of the apocalypse.

Gelf Magazine: Do you think the culture you satirize will make a comeback once the economy recovers?

Amit Chatwani: I'm not sure the culture is dead—I think there will always be guys in blue blazers and pink shorts rocking sockless loafers in January. Right now. I know kids in business school spending $5K on wine at dinner in Boston (what's up, Matt!), just waiting for the economy to bounce back so they can get back in the ring and create more carnage.
But if we're lucky (doubtful), someone will create the financial checks and balances to make sure things don't get out of hand again.

Gelf Magazine: Where did the idea for the blog and the book come from?

Amit Chatwani: At some point, I posted an Onion-esque article on a personal blog I was maintaining. The article was called "Bonus Season" and it was about whether bonuses for first-year analysts were going to be $50K or $55K or something like that. That particular article spread rather quickly, and I realized there might be a niche there worth focusing on. Things grew organically as first and then there was some media attention.
For the book, I just wanted to create something light that captured the absurdity of the fact that nearly all top college grads were going into finance to build "sick M&A models" in Excel.

Gelf Magazine: To what extent is "Logan" based on real people, and to what extent is he a parody?

Amit Chatwani: No one I know is quite as sweet as Logan, but he shares aspects in common with a lot of people I know. Everyone has had a night or a day where they feel they've crushed it like Logan does every single second. He is too one-dimensional to be any real person, but I think there's a piece of him (elitism) that most people can relate to.

Gelf Magazine: What is the intended readership for the book and the blog?

Amit Chatwani: Rich, wealthy, and WASP. Also, Dubai. But sadly, I'm pretty sure it's mostly just a bunch of dorky Jewish, Asian, and Indian kids.

Gelf Magazine: Do you think young financiers have a sense of humor about themselves?

Amit Chatwani: Without question. I don't think life is sustainable without that kind of self-awareness. You see in the comments on the blog, too—some of them are serious, but a lot of them are playing along with the joke.

Gelf Magazine: What does "Logan" think of the business media?

Amit Chatwani: To him, they're like the paparazzi—futilely trying to capture the glamour of something they themselves will never quite grasp.

Gelf Magazine: You told the Times you hope the book will be perceived as "a sort of historical document, a parody of a world that existed until basically a moment after it came out." Could you elaborate on this idea?

Amit Chatwani: I just meant that the book attempts to capture some of the aspects of a pretty long and significant period in history.

Bankster Rap

Gelf Magazine: Has anyone on Wall Street faulted you for making fun of them during an admittedly difficult time?

Amit Chatwani: Yes, but then I just do what everyone does when they talk to a banker these days: Ask them if they still have a job.

Gelf Magazine: Have you worked in finance?

Amit Chatwani: No, but I did work in strategy consulting. The idea for the blog and book really came from the fact that there's always a hierarchy: No matter what you do there's dudes gunning to be top dog. There's always somebody shitting on somebody else.

Gelf Magazine: How do the book and the blog differ?

Amit Chatwani: The blog is actually more of a narrative; it's more story-driven. Seeing as I had never written a book before, though, I didn't feel confident enough to go for a novel. I did consider packaging a bunch of stories, but my agent said that won't sell, so I wound up looking at some other books by internet writers. The book that wound up really influencing my book was Maddox's The Alphabet Of Manliness—I read that and decided I wanted to do something in that spirit.

Gelf Magazine: Do you think out-of-work bankers may be moving into other sectors?

Amit Chatwani: Yeah, a lot of people are moving into more industry-type jobs or leaving New York. Even before the crash, though, a lot of people wondered how this could be sustainable. When some of the smartest people in the country are spending their time mastering Excel spreadsheets, you can't help but wonder why we're doing this.

Vincent Valk

Vincent Valk is online editor for Chemical Week magazine.







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Comments

- Books
- posted on Jan 20, 09
David

now that's a headline!


Article by Vincent Valk

Vincent Valk is online editor for Chemical Week magazine.

Learn more about this author






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