From bonds to books - without riding Goldman's elevator

Mon Mar 3, 2014 4:21am EST

* GSElevator creator spent most of banking career in Hong Kong

* Twitter parody inspired by experience in Asian capital markets

* Book to be published later this year

By Steve Garton

HONG KONG, March 3 (IFR) - John Lefevre dialled in early to a conference call from his desk high up in Citibank Tower in central Hong Kong. He recorded his name as "UBS", put the line on mute, and then dialled in again from another line, this time correctly identifying himself as a Citigroup employee.

It was an important call, a discussion on the right price for a rare offering of US dollar bonds from China Development Bank, the state-owned Chinese policy bank. A large group of bankers, both from Citigroup and the other managers, were on the line, along with CDB's top financial officials, the people who would ultimately be paying the banks to arrange the deal.

In the middle of the call, just as a senior CDB executive was outlining his case for a better price on the deal, Lefevre switched back to the first line and hung up. The automated voice cut in: "Now leaving the call: UBS."

The timing of the prank was perfect, leaving the UBS representatives rushing to reassure an annoyed client that they were still on the line, and the rest of the syndicate group laughing quietly at their rivals' misfortune.

Lefevre, the man behind a Twitter parody set in a Goldman Sachs elevator, is already well-known to many in Asia's capital markets. The former debt syndicate banker worked at Citigroup in Hong Kong for much of his investment banking career, and now has plans for a book detailing the excesses of Wall Street's finest in the region's emerging markets.

He did not have to look far for anecdotes. Lefevre built an impressive reputation at Citigroup, earning the respect of his colleagues and peers for his ballsy pricing calls and smooth salesmanship, but it was his hot temper and after-hours exploits that earned him the nickname of "Fever".

Lefevre declined to comment for this article, but IFR understands early drafts of Straight to Hell, due to be published by Simon & Schuster this October, have focused mainly on his own experiences, both in and out of the office. One former colleague who claims to have seen a proof describes the stories as "electric".

A book promising to lift the lid on the extravagant and irresponsible lifestyles of expatriate bankers in Asia's growing capital markets will make for awkward reading at a time when the investment banking industry is still struggling to improve its public image.

It will also raise further questions over bankers' inflated salaries and bonuses, and the corrupting influence of money on smart and ambitious young professionals.

BOND MARKET ROOTS

Lefevre, 34, was born in the UK but spent his childhood near Houston, Texas. He attended a private boarding school on the US East Coast - Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, Connecticut - and joined Citigroup as an analyst after graduating from Babson College, Massachusetts, in 2001. He worked in New York and London, before moving to Hong Kong in 2004, where he worked on the bank's Asia debt syndicate desk until leaving in 2008.

In early 2009, he signed up as one of the first employees of Amias Berman, a fixed-income boutique set up by Jeremy Amias and Charlie Berman, two ex-Salomon, ex-Citigroup veterans. The firm positioned itself as an alternative to the bulge-bracket banks, aiming to win a share of bond trading and advisory business at a time when the traditional Wall Street firms were scaling back. After changes to its business model, it was eventually sold to commodity brokerage Marex Spectron, and subsequently to debt broker Seaport Group in late 2013, long after its two founders had returned to major global institutions.

Lefevre quit Amias Berman in late 2010 for a debt syndicate job at Goldman Sachs in Hong Kong, but never took up the position. He has since relocated to Texas and started a family.

The @GSElevator Twitter feed sprang from a conversation between Lefevre and some former colleagues in a Hong Kong bar. It offers amusing, often expletive-laden, and sexist exchanges that it claims were overheard inside the elevators at Goldman Sachs, and has clearly struck a chord with the social media community's perception of investment bankers.

@GSElevator has 645,000 followers. Citigroup's official Twitter feed has 251,000, Goldman's 134,000.

In the early days, Lefevre's online alter ego stayed closer to the Asian bond markets, as in this tweet from October 2011:

#1: I always tell my Chinese clients, 'Being morally bankrupt won't affect your credit rating.'

Indonesian issuers were another favourite target:

#1: Being held accountable for selling Indonesian corporate bonds is like getting busted for prescribing OxyContin in Hollywood.

Whether or not the conversations really happened, they often painted a damningly realistic picture of the gulf between the financial community and the common man. As in this tweet:

[Cheung Kong lobby (the building housing Goldman Sachs's Hong Kong office)] #1: EDs don't drive Aston Martins to work, mate. Show some humility. #2: My driver was sick.

The @GSElevator account has since expanded into longer posts, such as offering summer interns advice on how to behave during their time at Goldman Sachs, and how to dress like an investment banker.

More recent tweets have been more generic, if equally cutting, but they perhaps offer an insight into the stories in Lefevre's forthcoming book.

#1: You can get away with just about anything if you're buying the drinks.

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