The New Office Dress Code
Five New York moneymen discuss career advice, the pitfalls of casual Friday and why the necktie may be next on the endangered list.
When you hear the words “Wall Street”, what immediately springs to mind? Gordon Gekko declaring: “Greed is good”. Patrick Bateman obsessing over embossed fonts. The chest-beating chant in The Wolf of Wall Street…
But, as with most things Hollywood, the reality (and the wardrobe) is not as over-the-top as what you see on the big screen. So, in order to gain some insights about the changing state of office dressing, MR PORTER invited five financiers to lunch (which, incidentally, is not for wimps).
As it transpires, the main competition focused on who had the most varied and fulfilled life outside the office. Among this impressively diverse portfolio we have a world record-breaking automotive enthusiast, an international rugby player and a skydiving beekeeper.
Mr David Marquart
Founder and CEO, Marquart Capital
Described by Business Insider as “one of Wall Street’s brightest minds”, Mr David Marquart, 29, has recently set up his own hedge fund. He lives in Dumbo, Brooklyn with his wife, Ms Ali Grace Marquart, a partner at law firm Marquart & Small LLP. The couple plans to open LA offices this year and will divide their time between the two coasts. Mr Marquart also volunteers as a Big Brother for the Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City programme, which gives one-to-one mentorship to children facing adversity.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received?
“ ‘Make yourself indispensible’. I was told that by the head trader at Capstone . The finance industry is very competitive. You’re measured by your numbers – how well you perform relative to the amount of risk you take. So you have to work hard and you have to work smart. It’s not just about putting the hours in; it’s about strategy. I see my job now as a combination of psychology and math. It’s a continuous and gratifying pursuit and it encourages the ability to be creative quantitatively, which I enjoy.”
You’ve just started your own hedge fund at 29. How did you start out?
“When I first moved to New York I was nocturnal – I used to work through the night trading Asian and European markets . It was pretty wild given the economy at the time in 2007 and 2008 . One night I individually executed 10 per cent of the entire market volume of the Australian Stock Exchange – billions of dollars of notional value, and I had just turned 22. The lifestyle was intense, but it was a priceless experience.”
How do you dress for the job now?
“Very classically. Most high-net-worth individuals tend to be very old school, so they wouldn’t appreciate it if you’re dressed too loudly. The suit should look well made and fit you well, but you’re not trying to make a fashion statement. There are guys who wear the Gucci loafers and the big flashy watches, but you’d better be able to back that up. My professional dress sense is deliberately safer because I want to convey that I am someone to be trusted. One thing I do now that I am my own boss is leave a bit of stubble because I have a baby face when clean-shaven.”
Mr Yomi Akinyemi
VP, Fund Finance
Newly arrived in New York from his hometown of London, Mr Yomi Akinyemi, 31, is a VP in the fund finance division of a British bank where he has worked for the past five years in a number of different roles. Before that he was at Barclays for four years. A talented sportsman, Mr Akinyemi considered a career as a professional rugby player with Aviva Premiership club Leicester Tigers, having represented England at schoolboy and university level.
How close were you to being a professional rugby player?
“A lot of the guys I played with have gone pro but a lot didn’t make it and they maybe didn’t have much to fall back on. My parents made sure I stayed focused academically so that I could, in their words, ‘get a proper job’.”
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?
“‘Make sure whatever you’re doing is transferable.’ A career is long, but it’s very rare that you will be doing the same thing for the same company for life. So it makes sense to ensure that you’re not boxing yourself in. Stay as mobile and as marketable as possible.”
We’ve heard that conservative dress puts clients at ease – so how do you show your flair?
“Watches are probably the one area where guys can display a little bit of peacockery. A watch is a social signifier. I have a Montblanc watch and I also wear a Mondaine day to day, but I’m in the market for a Rolex. I don’t want something ostentatious because there’s an assumption that comes with a blingy watch. Where I work the culture is to be more discreet. It’s not the kind of place where people go around flashing money. So if they did have a Patek Philippe or whatever, they wouldn’t wear it to the office.”
Mr Bryan Bui
Senior analyst, Cien Ventures
Mr Bryan Bui, 31, grew up in the Californian surf town of Huntington Beach, the son of Vietnamese immigrants. After studying at NYU, he worked at pharmaceutical giant Pfizer in New York before leaving to join a small venture capital fund helping to build businesses that fill a need in the world of healthcare. He lives overlooking Central Park on the Upper West Side.
Why is the healthcare sector worth investing in?
“Ten years ago all the start-ups were consumer-orientated. Go to Silicon Valley now, many of them are healthcare-based. There’s huge untapped potential in this sector. Google knows, for example, when a woman is pregnant before she does, just by the things she is searching for. Google can also predict flu outbreaks if a lot of people in one area are searching symptoms at the same time. The healthcare industry is so far behind all this. We’re trying to bridge that gap.”
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
“There are four things and they’re all analogies. 1) Never take down a gate unless you can figure out why it was put there in the first place. 2) If the General gets too far in front of the army, sometimes they mistake him for the enemy. 3) Never complain about the bottom rungs of the ladder – they get you higher. 4) If you want to see a rainbow, get ready to weather a storm.”
What’s the number one thing to get right in a start-up?
“People first. The people make the workplace. You could be working on the coolest thing ever but if you’re working with terrible people, it’s going to suck.”
What do you do outside of work?
“Fly fishing. There’s an art to it and I’m obsessed. With normal bait fishing, you put the bait in the water and you hope the fish takes it. It’s passive. Fly fishing is more like hunting. You’re reading the river, trying to spot where there’s likely to be a fish and choosing the best fly. Then you have to cast it in the right place and get it to land just right. There’s probably an analogy for business there too. Fly fishing is a perpetual series of occasions for hope.”
Mr Michael Conti
Regional sales manager, SunEdison
Mr Michael Conti was born in Manhattan 30 years ago but grew up in neighbouring Montclair, New Jersey. After various jobs in the finance industry working for an investment bank, a private equity fund and then his own start-up, Mr Conti now feels he has found what he was born to do: “I sell solar energy because I’m saving the world from climate change doom,” he says. Mr Conti gets a lot of his own energy from the sun, spending as much time as he can outdoors. He lives in a waterfront loft in Dumbo, Brooklyn and, in his spare time, puts on huge parties to raise money for charity.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
“Growing up, my dad worked on Wall Street, a lot of my parents’ friends worked on Wall Street, it’s what I knew. But I got some pretty good advice from my pop when I was career hunting. He told me not to follow the suits but to follow my passion – which was interesting given his experience. He said: ‘There’s more to wealth than just money.’ The generational opportunity that my father’s success gave me was to be able to follow my passion rather than money.”
It sounds as if you’ve managed to find both.
“There are a lot of jobs in finance that can feel quite dry or soulless – like you’re not making a difference. In this job, I go to work every day super-excited, and I get to save people money and save the planet, too.”
What do you spend your money on?
“Experiences, rather than the usual trappings of life. Flash is not my thing, but personal gratification is. I got into beekeeping after I had a nasty motorbike accident in 2012, which left me immobile for a number of months. I recently got a new bike – a reconditioned Triumph Thruxton; a Café Racer, Steve McQueen kind of bike – to ride down the Pacific Coast Highway with a friend. I go rock climbing, skiing and slacklining, and I especially love to skydive. People assume that is an adrenaline sport, but the sensation I get from it is one of pure peace.”
Mr Peter Molloy
Founding director, Edison Investment Research
Mr Peter Molloy, 43, moved to New York from London three years ago to open the US arm of the company he co-founded, which provides investment intelligence and analysis. The business has offices all over the world which means Mr Molloy works a long day, starting around 6am when he checks in with London, and ending late in the evening when Sydney and Wellington come online. A well-travelled adventurer, Mr Molloy spent 2002 in a Land Rover, setting a record for driving from the UK to Australia using the least amount of sea travel possible: overland from the Channel tunnel in France to Singapore. He’s also a keen football player and is on the board of Kick4Life, a professional football club and youth academy in southern Africa.
You’re wearing a double-breasted suit today, but hasn’t the dress code relaxed in recent years?
“When I first started 20 years ago, it was very strict. In some companies you weren’t even allowed to remove your jacket at your desk. Dress down Friday, or casual Friday, came in during the dot-com boom thanks to the West Coast influence and everyone became bizarre polo-shirt-and-chino clones. The extent to which people dress down is correlated to the economy. In the recent recession things smartened up again because people were all taking their jobs much more seriously, dressing to impress and to compete. And when people are out of work, they’re interviewing all the time. In the past couple of years in New York, I’ve noticed that the tie is disappearing. I think it’ll be a while before that is acceptable in London but it’s going that way.”
Does the way you dress still matter?
“Very much so. People are so busy, we all make snap decisions, so first impressions count more than ever. You’ve got to have impact immediately with whomever you’re going to see to make them think that they should give up the time to listen to what you have to say.”
You’re a father. What career advice would you give your son?
“‘Don’t follow the rules.’ There is a way around everything – you just need to keep pushing until you find it. Also, don’t worry about getting married ’til you’re 40 at least! That’s my best advice. Focus on other things, having fun. You’re going to live to be 100-plus hopefully, so there’s plenty of time.”