The bear pit

In the last five minutes of the Corporate Finance lecture, the room erupts into absolute chaos!

The scheduling for an assignment handed out is tight, and this late in the term everyone’s fighting to keep up with the work, so nerves are on edge. But time isn’t the fundamental problem: scheduling is. Everyone here is a member of at least 4 syndicate groups, each a different set of people (I’m in 5) and there is NO commonality of calendaring.

What this means is that everyone in the room has to agree a meeting time. And they have to do it RIGHT NOW, no question, because if the decision slips into email or the weekend it’ll be impossible to get answers. A frenzy of shouts and gesticulations rises to fever pitch in seconds, not helped by the fact that not many people know who’s in their designated group.

Shouted back row: “Yo! Can we talk a second?”

“Need to negotiate! Let’s do this deal now.”

“How’s everyone fixed for Monday evening?”

“Monday?”

“How about Monday afternoon?”

“I’ve got POM!”

“There might be a session Wednesday morning!”

“Wednesday afternoon! I bid Wednesday afternoon!”

“Thursday evening reports poor third-quarter results!”

“Pork Bellies! Pork Bellies at 81 4/32!”

OK, I made the last two up, but you see my point. It’s like being in the bear pit of the New York stock exchange! For a full four minutes the ‘trading floor’ is a nerve-jangling web of palpable tension and frustration, alliances and trading positions being formed and re-formed second by second, as factions and raiders mount their assaults on each other’s calendars. Shouting down the weak and filling their boots with the strong.

My opening bid to acquire Monday evening gets rejected by a determined duo of asset-strippers in Row 2, but my exploratory Put option on midweek yields a head-and-shoulders shape on the graph. I short-sell Wednesday afternoon in the hope of talking up the less liquid Wednesday morning, and suddenly everyone’s buying Wednesday before lunch (which everyone will miss, of course, lunch being for wimps). I cut my losses on Monday – if you can’t take your losses, you shouldn’t be in the market – and fill my boots with Wednesday morning. It’s agreed. The culture of the Bear Pit has produced another result. Wow, that was INTENSE!

Where are my red braces?

Everyone is giving the Corporate Finance lecturer a hard time today

A room full of inquisitive and intelligent people will always have questions when being taught new concepts, and the MBA crowd is a pretty gregarious bunch. We’ve switched Corporate Finance lecturers for the second half of the course, and she’s never more than thirty seconds into an explanation before half a dozen people butt in with questions.

This is, of course, THE MOST ANNOYING THING IN THE WORLD.

Did Isaac Newton drop his quill formulating s=ut+(0.5*at^2), and switch to calculating the effects of sunlight and wind resistance on the bloody falling apple, before he’d pinned down the underlying simplicity of the concept? NO. The whole point here is to understand the THEORY first, clean and untouched, so you can recognise it through all the dirt of the real world that obscures it later. But nobody is getting this.

Can we – just TRY – absorbing the fucking THEORY first before complicating it with irrelevant fudge factors? Why is everybody trying to include the whole world in the model before gripping the basics? Are they really that much smarter than me? GET WITH THE PROGRAMME, PEOPLE.

Admittedly, some of it may be due to the previous lecturer’s Teutonic roots and the current one’s Italian heritage: there’s rather a difference in teaching styles. Accuracy and precision are an ingrained part of the German national character; among Italians they’re – er – perhaps not seen as quite so fundamental. Attention to detail on the lecture slides is more 1970s Lancia than BMW X5 (4 of 7 slides contain numerical errors.) But that’s not what’s causing the problem. The problem is Us.

And to pick one isolated example – let’s just say that when two Italians are talking from different perspectives, “Can I just finish my sentence” is something of a futile request.

What’s odd is that the concept being taught is, at heart, REALLY SIMPLE. It’s nowhere near as complicated as IRR or bond valuation; it’s more intuitive and real-world. This should be one of the easier lectures, yet it takes forever to get past each slide.

My colleagues are going through an exercise in MISSING THE FUCKING POINT here, and it’s exasperating. Or maybe – since I’m the one annoyed by it – the one who’s missing the point here is ME. Just wish I knew what that ‘point’ was.