I’ll say this for the Greeks: they may be entirely incapable of running a semi-large modern mixed economy, but they certainly know how to throw a close party. My ground-breaking olive oil deal finally signed at the end of January, and we celebrated by going out to paint Athens red.
My boss (who came out for the signing along with another of the partners – glory hunters) seemed to be under the impression that he was a sailor on shore leave, and thoroughly disgraced himself. It’s a good job I was there to keep an eye on them and be the respectable face of the firm – at least until about 9pm, beyond which all details of the evening have been lost in a fug of ouzo and tsipouro.
I got a shock the next morning, though: at 9am I got a call on the Blackberry from my boss, who wanted to know why I wasn’t at our meeting. I’d seen this meeting in the diary, but I naturally assumed it had been put in by mistake (who has meetings at 9am the morning after a party? I think it might actually be illegal on mainland Europe) and as such had ignored it completely.
But when I got downstairs, still feeling incredibly nauseous and still wearing the same suit I’d gone out in the previous night, I found my boss sitting at the breakfast table, immaculately dressed and looking fresh as a daisy – whereupon he promptly demanded to know what my value creation strategy was for our new asset.
“Sorry? My what?”
He sighed like a man whose heart has never known anything but pain.
“Value creation, Nicky. Everyone has to do it these days. You know what Henry says, right: any old fool can buy a company; it’s what you do with it that matters.”
I laughed. Then I realised that he wasn’t actually joking.
“I know Henry said that, boss, but he wasn’t talking about the likes of us, right? We’re buyout guys. We’re asset buyers. We make carefully judged macro bets at a micro level, backing proven winners. That’s what I call value.”
“Listen, Pye, this is not 2006. You can’t just buy and hold and hope for the best any more. This is Europe, 2013. The economy’s flatter than a roadkill pancake. Do you have any idea what kind of pressure we’re under? Unless I have a memo on JTL’s desk within the month explaining exactly how we’re going to turn this filthy bedraggled sow’s ear into a Hermes silk purse, he’ll be on the next plane over to pummel my face. Have you learned nothing in the time you’ve been here? Actually don’t answer that. But stop giving me that face, Pye. That is not the kind of face I want to be looking at right now.”
Feeling a slight tide of panic rising up in the back of my throat (although it may just have been ouzo), I racked my alcohol-ravaged brain, desperately trying to dredge up every last vestige of the experience, know-how and genuine operating excellence that I’d gleaned from the fantastic people I’ve had the privilege of working alongside during my 20 glorious months at Big Shop.
“Erm, I suppose I could give McKinsey a ring?”
My boss gave me a long hard look. There was a pregnant pause, as he weighed up next steps.
“Yeah, ok then,” he said, relaxing back into his chair. “That’ll do. Hey, are you going to eat those eggs?”