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One data-driven journalism thing to start: Black Americans held a lower share of top US financial services jobs in 2018 than they did more than a decade earlier, according to FT research, illustrating the shortcomings of Wall Street’s long-running efforts to improve racial diversity. (FT)
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Welcome to Due Diligence, your briefing on dealmaking, private equity and corporate finance from the Financial Times. Want to receive DD in your inbox? Sign up here. Get in touch with us anytime:
Picture the scene.
SoftBank’s billionaire founder Masayoshi Son, top lieutenant Rajeev Misra and a group of wealthy executives and entrepreneurs are in Jeddah, trying to figure out how to get to Riyadh after being invited to visit Yasir al-Rumayyan, the head of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.
Suddenly, an unassuming newcomer speaks up. Turns out he has a private jet to offer. Actually, he has quite a few — a level of extravagance far beyond what the others enjoy, and beyond even the levels of some of the world’s largest corporations and their executives.
“We need it for clients,” he explains. “We need an air force.” His peers are amazed. Who is this guy?
It’s Lex Greensill, the then 42-year-old founder of Greensill Capital, a start-up which at the time of the Jeddah visit in 2019 SoftBank had just invested in.
The company is now insolvent, of course, and at the centre of a deepening financial and political scandal that has drawn in everyone from Credit Suisse to former UK prime minister David Cameron.
But at one point it had serious aspirations to do business in Saudi Arabia, including a much-touted but never realised contract to offer its so-called supply chain finance services to state-controlled oil company Saudi Aramco, and proposals to finance the modernisation of Mecca, which also did not come to fruition.
The private jet moment is just one of the incredible details in this latest FT feature.
It looks at the attempts by Greensill and Cameron to woo Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, just a year after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents.
Cameron worked as an adviser to Greensill after leaving Downing Street and stood to make tens of millions of pounds from share options in the company. He’d also tried to lobby former colleagues for Greensill to get greater access to government-backed Covid loan schemes.
Another great detail: the Australian financier told people about a camping trip he took with the former prime minister and MBS, during which he said he’d bonded under the night sky with the crown prince over the fact they had both studied law.
A third: flight records for one of Greensill’s aircraft show numerous trips to and from Newquay airport, which is about half an hour’s drive from Cameron’s holiday home in Cornwall. The FT has seen a photograph of the former PM on one of the plushly furnished planes.
Surprisingly, Cameron has ignored several requests from the FT to discuss the desert camping trip. The offer is still open.
Last week, we asked you if we should feel bad for junior investment bankers.
Once again, investment banks find themselves defending the crazy hours they demand from young workers, after exhausted Goldman Sachs analysts circulated a slide deck detailing brutally long weeks and workplace pressure, exacerbated by the “always on” work-from-home mentality.
Your answers reflected the broader conversation DD’s hearing from our sources and reading online — that is, a mixed bag, or more fittingly, a mixed hamper of fruit, since that’s what the newly minted bankers over at Goldman have been receiving to numb the pain of what employees described as “inhumane” 96-hour work weeks.
Some corroborated the longer hours in lockdown and the expectation to be available 24/7:
Many called for change . . .
While some lamented the lack thereof . . .
And others were slightly less empathetic towards the industry’s newest ranks . . .
Meanwhile, young Jefferies analysts are eagerly awaiting their Pelotons, while their chief executive Rich Handler Photoshops himself next to one and hawks Fit Tea on Instagram.
Given the long waiting time for Pelotons as the company struggles to keep up with booming pandemic demand, employees may be waiting an additional six months to claim their prize, an analyst at Jefferies tells DD. NordicTrack treadmills and rowing machines were offered as alternatives.
But can wicker-dwelling fruit arrangements, luxury exercise equipment, or in Credit Suisse’s case, $20,000 bonuses, slap a Band-Aid on an issue that’s been plaguing Wall Street for decades?
The answer remains uncertain.
One of the splashiest venture bets Masayoshi Son has made in recent years was a $500m cheque he wrote to Improbable Worlds in 2017.
The London-based start-up is run by a young first-time entrepreneur named Herman Narula, the son of the billionaire construction magnate Harpinder Singh Narula.
Herman wanted to revolutionise gaming with technology that would make it easier for small developers to build massive online games like World of Warcraft.
He also dreamt of turning Improbable into a global giant like Google or Alibaba by deploying his simulation software “SpatialOS” across society and business, saying in 2017 that he was “building something like The Matrix”.
But four years after Masa made what was then the biggest-ever funding round for a British venture, Improbable is still searching for a hit that will vindicate its technology.
The FT’s Kadhim Shubber chronicles Improbable’s struggles in this deep-dive, but the crux of the criticism mounting against the British tech group can be summed up by this unsparing verdict on Narula from a gaming industry veteran:
“He wants to change how games are made, but he hasn’t really made any games,” said Hilmar Veigar Petursson, chief executive of CCP Games, the maker of space-based role-playing game Eve Online.
Improbable said its vision of building virtual worlds “remains unchanged”, adding that “hearsay or anecdotes about the alpha or pre-alpha state of Improbable’s first product are wildly out of date and do not reflect the reality of [its] current business or its technology”.
Note, Improbable has racked up £144m of losses since that SoftBank round, but it still has huge resources available to it: some £270m of cash, treasury notes and bonds.
Bottoms up Stumble down the right street in Tokyo and you’ll end up at Stockpickers, the first watering hole catering to day-traders, serving up drinks like the “Lehman Shock”. Maybe for once you’ll get a return on investment for that steep bar tab. (BBG)
April fools comes early No, Volkswagen isn’t rebranding itself as “Voltswagen” to sell more electric cars. But the carmaker’s Elon Musk-esque PR stunt didn’t exactly land. (WSJ)
Banks face regulators’ scrutiny on handling of Archegos fire sale (FT)
US sues to block Illumina’s acquisition of liquid biopsy group (FT)
Hedge funds hit out at William Hill over disclosure around takeover (FT)
Oxford Nanopore picks London for latest tech IPO (FT)
Hong Kong set to allow corporate directors to obscure their identity (FT)
Bertelsmann aims for new national TV champion in France (FT)
Spotify acquires sports-talk app Locker Room (WSJ)