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Date With Wall Street
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The cab moved swiftly through traffic and dropped me at Liberty Towers, my home for the next 10 weeks. The moment I entered my apartment, I was mesmerised by the scene outside - the revered Manhattan skyline shining in the evening twilight and the Statue of Liberty standing proud to its right! For the next few moments, I gazed spellbound at the manmade beauty outside. Eventually the physical burnout made me realise that I need to get good sleep to be on time for my first day tomorrow.
First up next morning, I figured out the subway route to my workplace. Or so I thought. I got off two stations too early and ended up reaching office 45 minutes late! Not a great start, I said to myself as I tentatively approached the HR personnel waiting for me."You are late!" she said as she smiled, and then before I could apologise, she smiled once again and calmed me down saying, "Don't worry, we know people inadvertently get late, that's why we call them early", winking her eyes as she finished.
Induction was a quick breeze after which I walked onto the trading floor, seeing which I was literally floored. It was an amazing scene - rows after rows of restless traders, people moving around at a frantic pace, phones continuously ringing, and everyone still having the poise to keep concentrating on their individual computer screens. Welcome to the Wall Street!
This was Barclays Capital, one of the world's largest investment banks - and I was actually a part of it - if only for the summers. I was assigned to non-agency mortgage trading for the first five weeks and residential credit strategy for the next five. Both the teams were truly cross cultural. In fact, entire floor was no less than a mini melting pot of cultures. Today when I look back, it was one of the most enjoyable aspects of the time I spent there (New York).
I got introduced to my division head and the team I was going to be working with. Soon after, came heaps of reading material on mortgages. And later my first assignment, a test from what I had read! My routine was setup quickly - Come in around seven in the morning, prepare for the day ahead and eat both breakfast and lunch at the desk. The initial period was all about observing and getting along with the traders, trying to understand what they did and also why they did whatever they did. I was constantly trying to take advantage of the time I could spend with my team whilst having to feel fresh and alert for early starts and long days. It was tiring.
As I spent more time on the trading floor, I got a better understanding of what truly happens there. Different clients (corporations, pension funds and hedge funds) had different requirements and traders had to satisfactorily meet the specifics of and for the benefit of clients, in quick time. I worked on a few projects on the trading desk, but more or less, it was about getting a good working knowledge of products and the systems. On the strategy desk, I had more specific deliverables. However, on both the desks, my biggest takeaway was getting to know my colleagues. That for me was a key to see whether this was a place I would wish to work at.
The people I met were all very friendly and considerate. Even the top bosses were very down to earth people with no urge to display any power. The teams were loyal, hard-working and fun to be with. People worked hard during the day and took every opportunity to enjoy themselves (New York term "to let loose"). It could be someone's birthday, a sports event being telecast on TV floors, or even just standard Friday social gatherings, the entire group participated. I distinctly remember the fun we had while making bets on the return game of Tiger Woods and of course, leaving our work to watch the SEC versus Goldman fight on TV. For me a big difference from my campus life was that though I was working hard during the week, my weekends were completely free.
I would never forget the time I spent exploring New York City. The city has a lot more to it than just the spectacularly lit Times Square. It does not take long to figure out why New York is called the cultural capital of the US. It is a very big center for music, film, theater, dance and art. From theaters, museums, restaurants of various cuisines to variety of nightclubs, the city has everything in abundance. Not least, New York is a uniquely large and ethnically diverse city and throughout the time I spent there, I never felt out of place. There was always plenty to do and weekends always flew by, leading to not the most pleasant Monday mornings, but leaving me with plenty of fond memories that I have with me till today.
Before I knew, the internship period was about to end. The last week of work was filled with intrigue about 'who all' will be finally getting the coveted offer. No one could help but rate his or her chances. I had my review meeting on the last Friday and my manager seemed satisfied and happy with me. No doubt I had exerted a lot, something I had expected to do being an intern in the highest paying firm on campus. However, I enjoyed the overall experience. The city was fantastic and the workplace brilliant. I have no doubt that this experience should be of immense value to me, not just for my professional career, but also in my personal life.
Harkaran Singh Talwar is a first year student of the PGP at Indian Institute of Management Calcutta