The Secret Broker: Beware of Dec-hic Ides! – ember

After 35 years of brokerage for some of Australia’s and the UK’s biggest houses and investors, the Secret Broker regales Stockhead readers with his colorful war stories – from the trading floor to the dealer’s desk.

Well, Christmas is coming and restaurant reservation diaries are filling up fast.

I know this because one of the restaurants I’m interested in had to push my reservation to another day because the local RTA office wanted it for their Christmas party. The cheek!

I think the real reason for all the layoffs on Facebook and Twitter is that they can also cancel Christmas parties because they have become a legal nightmare.

Zoom-based parties may be a safer option, as now HR questions are being raised about who groped who and who paid for their last drink. Society or themselves? Who is responsible? Theirs or ours?

Going back to my very first Christmas office piss as a fresh-faced teenager was both good and bad for me.

Being 16 meant I wasn’t really legally allowed to drink in a pub, but in London at that time it was the main event of office banter. Everyone made sure you could be sneaked in.

So being admitted to all these parties was good for me because they were free and all my classmates were still at school studying for exams.

The downside for me, however, was all the drunken married women hitting on me, as most of their male colleagues were married, overweight and beaten up. I, of course, was young, single and ridiculously handsome. Well, that’s what mom said.

Getting a kiss and a grope from Sally while typing was fine, but when Sweaty Betty from the accounts started approaching, an urgent security word “wingman/woman needed here now” would be deployed aloud.

All you had to shout was “does anyone have time” and everyone knew someone was in trouble.

In Betty’s case, it would have to be a rugby tackle once she had you in sight or you were done for.

It was December 1980, and my first encounter with the wild side of how an alcohol-induced, sexually frustrated night would begin and end. Anyone could go down with whoever they wanted and the flow of booze was encouraged by the open bar policy.

In December 1983 however there was a slight downturn in the market and as Christmas approached a few of my friends and colleagues were made redundant.

I had however seen it coming, because in October, the firm had announced where the Christmas party would be held. This year, due to the market crash, if you wanted to go you had to pay £10 in advance for the party fee.

This had never happened before.

It turned out that the partners had used the services of a “cost cutter”, or “toe cutter”, as we called it. He was an American turnaround expert and his name was, well, let’s call him Ross Paulo. He was 50 years old, tall, ex-military, short gray hair, fit and dressed very well.

He became known as the “Smiling Assassin” because he was as sweet as pie in the face, but behind closed doors he was ruthless.

The reason I remember the £10 payment before the party so clearly was because when you checked in with Sara (Sarah’s classy name) she took notice of everyone. And when the smiling assassin fired you for ‘cost-cutting’ reasons, you were given your exact £10 note back.

See, Sara was the smiling assassin’s PA and she knew who was going to be fired. Even when she took the person’s money and said when confirming the registration “have fun, I won’t go”, she attached it to her next “no longer needed” letter.

If Sara or Ross showed up, they would have been lynched, as it was The Toe Cutter’s idea to “cut office expenses”.

Now, if Elon had learned from my former employer’s knowledge of good times and bad, he would have employed someone like Ross to do all the layoffs.

It keeps you once taken out and you can always walk out of the corner saying “sorry it wasn’t my decision”, and that’s technically true. Even though you ordered the mass slaughter, you weren’t the one who pulled the trigger.

So, the 1983 Christmas party seemed like a bit of a sad event, until something left the field and turned the whole atmosphere upside down.

Toe Cutter, meet the boot

We plebs would have our offices downstairs, no carpeting and a coffee machine 2p a plastic cup, while the partners upstairs had thick carpeting and a tea trolley ordered by Alice (40C upstairs shadow), who served them real tea and cookies with real bone china cups, saucers and plates.

The day before our partially paid £10 party, our senior partner came down to our level to read his annual ‘we wish everyone a Merry Christmas’ speech.

When he walked into our office, we all had to stand up as a sign of respect. It was only once a year and always the day before he left for the very sunny island of Mustique for a month’s vacation.

We were left with the harsh English winter and because one of the other partners was Hugh Tennant, whose brother owned the whole island, he and the wife could go and rub shoulders with Princess Margaret (a very late client) and the like .

Unbeknownst to us, just before coming to our office, the senior associate had gotten a bit lost on his “once a year visit to the troop trip” downstairs and had mistakenly ended up in the Toe’s office Cutter. And it turned out that Ross had made himself very comfortable.

So when he felt the plush rug under his feet and saw some of the partners’ artwork (which was supposed to be in storage) hanging on the walls, he was outraged.

In the battle of egos, this carpet has been at least three times more expensive than that of his own office. And, since he was the big cheese in the business, with royal clients (only the damaged ones bother you, but still up there), he promptly fired the Yank, on the spot!

The smiling assassin has just received his own bullet between the eyes. Ha!

The very next day, as the news filtered through the office, the atmosphere was electric and followed us all to the pub and our party. Even Sweaty Betty was allowed to steal a kiss from me under the mistletoe. (Fortunately for me, whiskey was allowed to be ordered, and I gargled some that night.)

Sara never showed up, because we all thought the smiling (and very married) assassin was doing to her what he had done to all of us.

And we were never asked to pay money for our Christmas party again!

The Secret Broker can be found on Twitter here @SecretBrokerAU or by email at [email protected]

Do not hesitate to contact him with your best stock advice and ideas.

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