A Day in the Life of an EnTRAPreneur

2 Feb 2013

February 2012– It was a crisp, late-winter evening in February, and me and two friends were arguing whilst briskly walking through campus. Despite the cold, the place was lively. Friends huddled around the union strategising on how to best seize the night, as a misty haze hung over the smokers outside the library. Students slung bags over their shoulders as they head back to their rooms, laughing either in large groups, or as couples cuddled together.

As we walked past the campus shop, all three of us looked up and observed just how busy it was. Customers were cutting in and out before it closed for the evening, loading up on drinks before student night at the local club. We paused our conversation and took note of the activity before heading downstairs, off the main concourse, not breaking stride as we skipped down the steps. I brought us back to our debate. “I’m telling you fam, he’s gonna start asking for more p’s (money),” I said, looking across the other two boys. “Look how active campus is, we can’t keep bumping him – he’s outgrown the wage.” “I hear you, but I’m not sure PB,” Anton replied. “I think we can get away with keeping him on the same money for now, you know. We’ll probably have to pay him more somewhere down the line, but I think we can hold off for a bit. Plus, there’s bare (a lot of) other people on campus who would sell for us.” He had a point to be fair. Between the three of us, we’d managed to grow a sizeable late-night food and drinks delivery business. Stupidly, (or perhaps tactfully the uni thought) the only shop on campus closed at 8PM, when many students were rolling out of bed, sweating out the toxins from the night before and looking to load up on more. Being the spirited, but flat-out broke students we were, myself, Anton and Kingsley decided to take advantage of this. We scraped together whatever money we had and went to the local wholesalers, bought stock and sold it straight to students on campus at night. We sold to everyone, and I mean everyone. Needed to pre-drink before a rave? We were there. Needed a snack during late night revision? We were there. High as fuck and had the munchies at 3 in the morning? We were there. Just broken up with your boyfriend and needed 2 bottles of wine and a box of chocolates? We were always there. The business was growing in a big way and we had a few workers who would take alternating shifts. We were on our way to the top salesman at the time, Sami, to collect some cash. I could sense he wanted a bigger slice of the creamier cake we were baking. Kingsley, who I’m sure was the 2012 incarnate of Peckham’s Del Boy, as always, wanted to squeeze on the money. “Nah fam, fuck all that! If he acts up, we’ll just find other workers. I ain’t taking shit from him, I’ll slap him.” Anton and I laughed. Make that a 2012 mix of Del Boy and DMX…

As we approached Sami’s building Kinglsey rang ahead to get him to open up. He buzzed us in and we strolled straight through to his flat which was on the ground floor, our footsteps echoing around the hallway. As we approached, Sami was at the door ushering us inside, something was hurried about his body language. His room was a mess, not your average few pizza boxes lying around mess. I’m talking police raid in the middle of the night type mess. The three of us were looking around when Sami cut through the silence “Guys, we’ve been robbed.” he murmured. “Ah shit” Kinglsey cursed. “Are you okay?” Anton and I responded in unison. We’d all grown to like Sami and could see he was pretty shaken. “Yh I’m fine, but they took all of it”, his voice was cracking and he was playing with his hands, rubbing and knotting them together like they were filthy. “What did they take, how much of it?” Anton asked. “Well it isn’t really your stuff they took…” Sami mumbled, not looking directly at any of us. The three of us looked round at each other puzzled, wondering what he was on about. “What do you mean?” Kingsley snapped. Sami finally looked up. “Guys, I needed a bit of extra money. It was only supposed to be short term, but I’ve been selling a bit of weed on the side…” I closed my eyes and let out a long groan as Anton reeled off a stream of profanity under his breath. Kingsley simply looked at Sami with sheer incredulity. “Guys you’ve got to help me! I’m in way too deep here. This guy I sell for wants his money back in the next three days!” Real panic stained his words. Sami was right, he was in way over his head. “Sami, I don’t get it… You’re a good yout (youth). Why get involved in this shit. It’s a whole different ball game,” I said. “I know, I know. I just need to sort this and then I’m out I swear,” Sami rushed. “How much and whose was it?” Anton asked. “Just over a grand. You know James, right? He’s on your course Anton,” Sami replied. Kingsley interrupted immediately, “So what, they took James’ food (weed) and nothing else, none of our cash?” The three of us looked at each other knowingly after Sami nodded. “Aight, Sami – sit tight,” gestured Anton. “Yeah, it’ll be fine,” said Kingsley, standing up. “We’ll try and hook you up with extra shifts and up your rate a bit, that should help you get back on your feet. We’ll be back around in the next few days to sort it out.” The situation had even softened our Del Boy a bit.

Whilst leaving the building I decided to say what we were all thinking: “James lined him up. He sent guys to rob his own worker and he’ll double his money when Sami pays him. They didn’t take anything else because they didn’t know he had anything else – James doesn’t know he sells for us.” Anton and Kingsley nodded. “Otherwise he would have taken it all, why turn down free money? In any case, we need to rethink how we do this…”

Today– Let’s get the important stuff out of the way first. Sami got through his madness and ended up graduating uni. He did go through an identity crisis, failed several exams and graduated with a considerably lighter bank account, but which student doesn’t? James wasn’t as fortunate and ended up not finishing uni and getting kicked out before his final year. Me and my two boys ran the business before winding it down ahead of graduating. Now we didn’t ever find out for sure whether James had set up Sami in the end. At the time (and in hindsight) it was the most plausible explanation for what had happened. Sami never found out and it wasn’t like he could just call the police and report it. James didn’t say anything and to be honest, we didn’t ask. He was the type of guy who drank Stella’s outside his building at 10AM, posted proudly next to his Renault Clio parked in the disabled bay, with tinted windows darker than his habits. He was well known on campus as a bit of a loose cannon. I wasn’t trying to get into it with guys like James at uni – it wasn’t worth it.

Whilst there are clear differences between our legitimate campus business and James’ attempt to be the university Top Boy, there were common traits that linked all of us. We were all extremely capable, very driven and highly entrepreneurial. I would argue that James was even more so than myself, Kingsley and Anton. Consider it, James had to operate a profitable business, including sourcing good product in the market, finding a loyal customer base and equally loyal workers but doing it discretely enough to avoid the attention of the university and the authorities. I mean it’s almost like working in an investment bank! The ability to be able to do this successfully should not be taken lightly. Of course, it goes without saying that James should’ve directed his efforts to something vastly more family friendly to make extra money and having ability does not make him exempt of the personal responsibility for his misdeeds. However, consider this argument: if you could make money selling a plant, such that you didn’t have to worry about the rent, or whether you’d be eating pot noodles for three years, or how you’d pay off 40 grand of debt; would you? There’s clearly a market for it. If you’re talented enough to build a business out of it, what’s the big deal? It’s very difficult to readily turn down extremely rewarding sums of money for what seems on the surface pretty harmless. Whilst my darker side is all for taking risks and screaming fuck the law, the fall out from operating a business this way is self-evident. These aren’t victimless operations unfortunately, enforcing trading boundaries, disciplining workers and dealing with competition all require moderate to extreme levels of violence and destructive behaviour. Consequences of such behaviour are life changing and not worth the monetary gain.

I’ve always found it interesting to compare investment banking and the drug industry. Drug barons who’ve been immortalised in film and TV are shown to be business savvy and ruthless, quickly identifying issues and dealing with them with frightening vigour. They’re often idolised as men of the people, supporting local communities and serving as a lightning rod for anti-establishment sentiment. Their story normally ends abruptly when Johnny Law finds them and locks them up or kills them, ultimately dismantling their operation and subsequently ridiculing the notion that these people could’ve ever been true forces for good. The irony here is that if they had chosen a different path in life they indeed could’ve had a much more positive impact. The skillset of a high-flying market trader or banking advisor versus that of an individual running a fully functioning drug enterprise aren’t too dissimilar. Strength with processing numbers, the ability to problem solve for a range of situations and a decisive streak all qualify you for both career paths. Whilst James was nowhere near a baron in his time at university, he built a successful business nonetheless. His real-life experience of what made a lucrative enterprise was worth a lot more than some of his peers who had only studied business theories from a book. He truly had the potential to be something great. The sad part is that all he probably needed was a word in his ear or a more relatable role model to nudge him along the right path. At some stage an inevitable criminal record will probably overwhelm and extinguish any potential that lingered.

To round up, I’m not making the argument that all drug dealers have the potential to be Richard Branson. On the flipside of that, not all squeaky-clean students will go on to achieve greatness. There’s a fine line between taking risks, breaking the rules and being off the rails. Finding the right balance is key.

The Poor Banker

Black People Don’t Ski Bruv!

August 2013

August 2013– “Which one of us do you think they’ll give the job to?” The question caught me off guard. It was 8PM and I was on the trading floor midway through my summer internship. Most of the floor was empty apart from a few quants still furiously coding and cleaners changing bins for the next day. Some interns were still floating around as well, despite the warm glow of August sun outside. Interns chewing pens figuring out math problems, squinting at screens finishing presentations; interns committing trade ideas to memory, mouthing silently with their eyes closed. I was sat at my desk, legs perched on the table catching up with the only other black intern on the programme. I looked up at him as he stood with his arms crossed. “What do you mean, which one of us?” I asked. “C’mon bro” he responded, “you know there’s only so many of us they can accept on to these graduate schemes”, he stated, pointing up toward his face and then mine. His tone was blunt, as if stating a certainty. I shrugged, “I ain’t even looking at it like that fam, I don’t see any reason why they wouldn’t give us both jobs.” “How do you even know that?” He asked. “How do you?” I retorted. “You don’t think there’s a limit for how many bruddas they take on?” a tone of helplessness creeping into his voice. “I have nothing in common with these guys! Some girl asked me today where my favourite place to go skiing is, black people don’t ski bruv!” he spurted incredulously. I laughed, but knew exactly what he meant. Just the previous week at one of the programme dinners, I was wondering why I had so many different sized knives and forks. I was as close to embarrassing myself as I was to striding out and buying myself a KFC bucket. “Minor though man” I reassured him anyway. “That’s got nothing to do with how good you are at the job. They could accept both of us based on just that”. “Yh but do I even want it bro? Like a job here?” He answered. “I can’t even be myself. They don’t want guys like us here, how many black people do you see around? Do you even see any black managing directors on this floor? I gotta rethink this whole thing for real” …

Today- I get asked by friends and colleagues for my opinion on why minorities aren’t more readily accepted into banking. Why there aren’t more black and brown CEO’s, managing directors and heads of business. Why haven’t we had a Prime Minister from a minority background, will we ever get one? I’m sure the Poor Lawyer, Poor Editor and the Poor Politician get asked the same questions. The short answer is simple. The fabric of society has white privilege so tightly woven into it, we’d need to unravel the whole tapestry before we realise we left all the other colours in the sewing box. Some of you rolled your eyes at that statement. Don’t lie I saw you. “Pulling the racism card PB, in 2019? Give me a break! Not everyone’s a racist, why do you keep bringing that up!?” Trust me, I hear you. Some non-coloured folk must wonder what the fuss is all about. Black Lives Matter, The Rooney Rule, “positive discrimination”, they must all make some decent, law abiding non-coloured folk think “wtf, so where does this leave me? I’m not a racist, don’t I deserve to go far?” Of course you do, but not at the systemic disadvantage of the rest of society. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an “us vs them” rant, you won’t find me marching up and down Piccadilly denouncing all white people as the devil, but it’s something that still needs addressing unfortunately.

Now for the slightly longer answer to the above question. There’s a great book called Staying Power by Peter Fryer which outlines the history of black people in the UK. In it, he explains the subtle differences between racial prejudice and racism. Racial prejudice is your everyday fringe bigot. You know the one, the drunk hurling racist abuse at a bouncer after not being let into a club. The lady on the bus laying into a woman wearing a headscarf, telling her to go back to her own country etc. Fryer describes racial prejudice as relatively scrappy and self-contradictory, transmitted largely by word of mouth (including keyboard ninjas on social media). Their behaviour is fostered by a culture of ignorance, fear and a need to rationalise cultural and physical differences. Racism, on the other hand, is systematic and acquires a pseudo-scientific rhetoric that glosses over its deeply flawed logic. It’s far more insidious than racial prejudice and has shaped many of the systems in place today. As Fryer aptly puts: “The primary functions of racial prejudice are cultural and psychological. The primary functions of racism are economic and political.” Racism, is far more destructive than racial prejudice and is the reason we’re at this juncture today. It was ultimately the means to justify the slave trade all those years ago. The opportunity to fuel Britain’s new found love of sugar and other foreign consumables was too lucrative to pass up. It was justified by a narrative that insisted: “blacks in every mental and moral way were inferior to whites”, a rhetoric which carried long lasting implications for the prospects of minorities. Now we’ve come a long way from slavery in the UK and there’s no way such rhetoric would be tolerated today, but the legacy of institutional racism still very much exists. Just ask The Poor Lawyer, Poor Editor and The Poor Politician again. Black and ethnic minorities aren’t prominent members in these industries because we’re subject to barriers in social and career progression that were forged centuries ago. Don’t get me wrong, minorities are a part of these industries, it’s probably never been easier to find a job and having a differentiated background can often be a plus to get in. However, these can often feel quota driven, be in a limited capacity and typically come with less room for progression versus their peers. Until these industries start broadening not just their palette in the search for talent, but for more diverse and non-traditional backgrounds in general, they’ll remain exactly as they are.

As much as these social constructs’ exist, we as minorities however, need to try and push past what we sub-consciously feel is “good enough” for us. For example, remember my fellow black intern at the top of the article? He unfortunately didn’t get a job at the end of the internship. Not because he wasn’t capable, in fact, in terms of raw ability, he was sharper than a lot of us on the programme. It was the inherent feeling he didn’t deserve to be at the bank, despite the fact that he was desperate for a job that would’ve changed his life. This was self-evident in his performance and ultimately cost him the offer. Make no mistake though, just because I got the job, I’m not devoid of this feeling. I still have instances where I laugh at the gap in lifestyle between myself and peers I joined the graduate programme with, sometimes I do feel like an imposter. It’s a feeling I see a lot of young people from working class backgrounds struggle with. However, for the most part, I don’t feel this way. I feel proud in having gotten where I am based on merit and being just as good as anyone else. On the internship much of my confidence came from the fact that I had gone well beyond what I know my peers had done in terms of preparation. In general though, whilst the arrogance and thick skin I acquired through growing up on a council block has helped, most of my drive comes from the pure hunger to change my situation in life and change the status quo. I often try to communicate this to people who I speak to on the topic. Regardless of background, anyone can show a desire to win and that variety of background is in fact a powerful gift.

To wrap up here its important to note: the allure of high profile jobs in the corporate, political and business arenas are far less appealing as of late. Young people are much more likely to pursue jobs and careers that more accurately reflect their changing priorities in life. However, diversity has now been highlighted by corporates as not only important for social clout but key in developing a competitive edge. It’ll take a long time to undo centuries of damage, but as these trends start to become more widespread and natural, it’ll only be a matter of time before the environment and attitude at these corporates become one which is far more inclusive, lest they risk social and competitive irrelevance.

The Poor Banker

Remember, Remember the 5th of November


December 2005– “Could you all quieten down please!” But it was no use, as another projectile whistled past his head, he realised his class had broken out into full anarchy. A cocktail of restlessness, end of term excitement and unfiltered Year 9 testosterone had tipped them into chaos. The meek substitute music teacher was no match for it. It had only been a week since his predecessor had left, not able to make it through the first term after realising she’d rather be jobless than trying to prevent a weekly Royal Rumble.

The class was carnage, keyboards ringing off rock samples, students playing penny games in the corner, boys instinctively ducking as objects came whizzing overhead. The main event however, had just broken out as two boys began wrestling near the middle of the room. There was a mad rush of student and teacher to the scene, with the latter getting nowhere near. A scrum of twenty boys had gotten to the action before him. I stood on a table to get a better view, hurling whatever I could get my hands on into the centre of the student colosseum, rattling the animals further. “Ay bang him! Don’t have it!” chants from the crowd as the boys tussled to get the upper hand, swinging one way then the next, blazers ripping at the seams. Realising the futility of his efforts, the teacher finally gave up trying to reach the lions pit and rushed out the door for reinforcements. As I watched him sprint out, the fight had taken a turn, blazers had now been ripped off and blows were being swung wildly, with both boys wanting to land the prize hit. The bigger of the pair launched an almighty haymaker, it’s ferocity matched only by its spectacular failure as he swung and stumbled over his own feet. His opponent capitalized. Taking a step back, he landed with a crack to the jaw, rocking the larger boy and prompting a huge roar from the spectators. “This is what school is all about!” I thought, punching my hands wildly in the air celebrating the underdogs victory, his opponent now out for the count.

Just then, fists still raised in jubilation, I noticed a boy on the outskirts of the group, a sneer curled on his face, sparks flying from his hands. Time slowed down as we locked eyes, the smile slowly fading from my face as I realised what was about to happen. “FIREWORK!” I bellowed. The class wheeled round in unison toward the door. We maybe had a few seconds before the fizzing stick of lightning would be lobbed into the crowd, where it would crack to next was anyone’s guess. Boys were scrambling over the strew of bags, music equipment and their own laces to escape the room. I jumped off the table and was promptly bundled over, my face slamming hard into the floor. Nose throbbing, I quickly got to my knees and glanced to my right. A second too long. BANG!

Today– Whilst I’m sure you’re eager to find out if this episode left me horribly disfigured and explains why I’m talking to you through a cartoon, soz but not soz. I luckily managed to scrape through the debacle with nothing more than a bloody nose and a migraine. Jokes aside though, if you went to a public school (or any half decent school for that matter) then a live re-enactment of Anthony Joshua vs Dillian Whyte followed by The Gunpowder Plot in a Year 9 Music class seems pretty outrageous. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a standalone incident and scenes like these were pretty standard where I went to school. Mind you this was only the tip of the iceberg.

Now, whilst I’m sure you feel an incredible amount of sympathy for poor me, do you know who the real victim is here? The teacher. Yes, poor Mr. Garcia and his fruitless attempts to teach my sorry bunch the dulcet tones of C Major. His struggles were symptomatic of those faced by several other teachers of mine and many teachers today. Run ragged, teachers face a relentless battle of growing classes, thinner funding and a student population with an ever varied set of problems. The Department of Education’s School Workforce in England census released in June 2018 outlined that the trend for the teacher-student ratio in the country has been on the increase since 2011, rising from 14.9 to 16 for state funded secondary schools. Also, despite a bump in the average wage of classroom teachers of £300 from 2016 to 2017 the average increase in annual income from 2010 is less than 1%, meaning the gap to their peers in other developed nations is widening. Teachers have less time, effort, resource and frankly incentive to make each individual students time in school a success. This unfortunately comes with dire consequences. People often wonder what the root causes of today’s knife crime are. I’ll save the broader conversation for another post, but it’s been shown there’s a direct link between rate’s of expulsion and later rates of imprisonment for young people in the UK.

The important question is where does the fix come from. Most people would agree every young person should be able to pursue their dreams and aspirations with an unbound framework of support. However, if the school system is giving less, who makes up the difference? Some kids like myself are relatively lucky. Good parenting and friends who looked out for me, both meant that I managed to scrape through school with only a few near misses and good grades to boot. However, for those not as fortunate, their journey was a lot bleaker. Convicted felons, first generation immigrants, students from broken homes and volatile families. I knew peers at 15 who’d been through more in life than some grown adults. Boys and girls who were trying to convince themselves that they were more than just hood rats. Where does the responsibility of school start and stop for boys and girls living in a world of instability? Youth clubs? After school schemes? These are crucial bases that must remain open and well-funded lest we continue a downward spiral of marginalisation of some young people.

Many of the kids I went to school with have grown up and gone on to do great things. They’ve become business owners, media creatives, music artists and footballers alike. The evidence suggests supporting young people who live in and come from tough environments have huge benefits in cultivating unique and exciting talent, it’s important that we find a way to do it systematically or risk the sparkle of the next generation fizzle out.

 The Poor Banker

New Blog, Who Dis??

Poor Banker_concept - FINAL ART 8-01It’s 2005. I vaulted the fence breathlessly as my pursuers maintained the foot chase. “Ay come back here bruv!”, but I knew that no good would come from stopping for the two youts who had been robbing anything of worth from students all week. My bag swung and jerked on my shoulders; I held it steady and hopped the low wall but as I took the next left I could hear them getting closer. “There’s a short cut out this estate”, I thought. If I could just make it to the high fence past the football cages, I could squeeze through the gaps. “You’re making it worse for yourself!” one of them barked as I dodged an old woman carrying her shopping, only to hear him clatter into her “argh get out the way!”. I stole the quickest look over my bobbing bag as her shopping went flying and she was sent reeling. “Stop man, what have I done to you!”, my voice cracked as the words came out…

It’s 2009. It’s cold, I’m in the local park at 9PM, I knew it was 9PM because the park keeper was ushering the last few people out of the gate before turning to me. “Are you sure you’re okay mate?” I guess I did look a bit lost. “I’m fine thanks, my mum should be here soon to pick me up”. In reality, I had no home for that night with only a half charged phone and text books to my name…

It’s 2012. I’m in an interview room trying to figure out what a balance sheet is, before having to decipher Amazon’s annual statement and pitch it for the biggest internship of my life.  “This woman is going to crucify me”, I thought, as she entered the room eyeing me shrewdly. “So you’ve had some time to asses it, what do you think of the stock?”. I paused, wondering how I should best phrase this. “From what I’ve looked at, I don’t see a reason why you’re not buying the hell out of these shares” sounding as matter of factly as a seasoned stock broker. “Really! You sound pretty convinced?” Surprise replacing her previously pursed features.  “Well you see…” I retorted without hesitation “I’ve done a bit of work going through the numbers and I think it’s a no brainer…”

It’s August 2013. I’m exhausted, but it’s the end of the summer internship. I’m as exhilarated as I am clueless. Do they like me? What if I don’t get in?  Do I even want to work in a bank? There were so many good interns… Fuck it, nothing I can do about it now. I’m just happy to go back to uni, back to a normal sleeping pattern again, back my usual fried chicken and not the rabbit food I’d been on for the last 8 weeks. It was an awesome experience whatever happened, I can genuinely be proud of what I’ve achieved regardless of the outcome. It would be sick if they wanted me though…

It’s September 2013. Shock, bewilderment. I’m trying to process what I’ve just been told. “You want to offer me the job?” I asked for the second time. “That’s right. I mean by all means take some time to think about it but we really think you’re the best fit”. I almost chewed her arm off the receiver, “I’ll take it” trying to keep some level of composure whilst slowing dawning on the fact that my life had changed for good…

Today. This is The Poor Banker or PB for short, a blog by a millennial from a council estate who stumbled through the back door into the big, bad banking world. If the story seems like a bad reboot of a Will Smith movie, then it kind of is. Except I’m from the concrete jungle that is South London (and thankfully never slept in a public bog). Now I’m living in a world where I’m occupying two bubbles, council estate kid and corporate climber. So I’m sharing it, and hopefully it connects people, through some cracking stories, a bit of social commentary and bits of financial advice that actually makes sense to the average bloke and blokette, The Poor Banker is here for it all.

The Poor Banker