“Mentor: Have you ever had a mentor? What was the greatest lesson you learned from him?”
Ah, yes. We have already established that lack of moral fibre made me choose to take Economics A Level, rather than English. That choice has undoubtedly led to a conclusion vastly different than what otherwise could have been. Absolutely no complaints there.
However, while it was a necessary step en route to the here and now, a nodding acquaintance with the price elasticity of demand and the Law of Diminishing Returns clearly wasn’t sufficient of itself. There have been plenty more ‘Sliding Door’ moments along the road to Tranquility Base.
And one thing that was certainly needed to push me further along this particular primrose path was a mentor. Perhaps in my case ‘facilitator’ would be a more accurate description, although I am no less grateful for the opportunity I was given.
Here, just a little backstory is necessary. Clutching my degree certificate I entered the world of work. After a brief stint in the Public Library service (great books, awful people, lousy money), I got a job in a newly-opened branch of a bank. This was always seen as a temporary post, because at the time I was only the second or third graduate on the entire payroll. Sure enough, after a few months I was transferred to Head Office.
This turned out to be not at all what I had in mind. I had visions of leaping straight in to the lending department, where I could turn down overdraft requests and foreclose on widows and orphans with great gusto. However, on my first day I was instead assigned, with about fifty other young(ish) people, to sort large piles of cheques into numerical order. You have no idea how depressing a prospect that is.
I made it through the morning, but after lunch I confronted the man in charge and intimated that perhaps this wasn’t the most effective use of my talents. How I plucked up the courage to make this protest I have no idea, but that was another, absolutely key, moment in my life.
More immediately, though, I was marked out as an uppity little sod, got a big black mark on my Personnel file and was kicked off to the nascent Marketing Department.
It was there that I met Zung. In order to stay on topic, I won’t give you the full story but what you need to know is that this irrepressible bundle of Vietnamese energy took me under his wing and, on the strength of that Economics A Level, put me in charge of researching the marketing strategies of other, competing, banks.
Among other things, this involved meeting the bank analysts of stockbroking firms. Zung had these contacts because before moving to the bank he had worked as an investment manager in the sister insurance company.
You also need to know that back in the mid-seventies investment analysis was still in its formative years and insofar as ‘the City’ could be said ever to have been a bastion of pop culture, the bank analysts were its rock stars (no, really). The Daily Mail even awarded a bottle of champagne for the most accurate forecast of the ‘Big Four’s’ pre-tax profits. Regrettably, though, this practice was abandoned before I started, because I would have won a few too.
Anyway, over the course of the next few years I met many of these legendary (in banking circles at any rate) individuals. And what a varied bunch of characters they proved to be, ranging from jolly, prodigious boozers to military types with impeccable cut-glass accents and mousy blokes who probably got into the job because they thought actuarial science was a bit racy.
I’d like to think that I fell into none of those categories. But what I did come to realise was that, behind all the mystique attached to these roles, in truth there was nothing involved in the work that (a) I wasn’t perfectly capable of doing myself and (b) that I would really rather like to do.
After that, it was just a case of waiting for the opportunity – the next Sliding Door – to arise. Let’s just hope that there’s an upcoming Daily Writing Prompt that will let me tell you more.