Mementos of triumphs make a return to bankers’ desks

May 29, 2014 5:08 pm

Mementos of triumphs make a return to bankers’ desks

By Emma Jacobs

When Lehman Brothers collapsed, Jessica Lindroos watched from her Canary Wharf office as redundant bankers left their building carrying boxes loaded with personal detritus. “It was a difficult time,” she says.

For The Corporate Presence, where Ms Lindroos works, the bank’s bankruptcy was particularly gloomy. TCP makes deal toys, also known as Lucites and tombstones, commissioned by banks to mark the closure of a corporate deal and sit on a desk or an office shelf. The design will include relevant corporate logos and may reflect the nature of the deal. A TCP Lucite for the Twitter deal featured the blue bird logo in a birdcage.

When the financial crisis hit, headcount was cut at TCP, mirroring the sector overall. Smaller Lucite makers went bust. Kim Russo, founder and chief executive of New York deal toy agency Global Design Network, felt “scared” enough to reduce headcount, move offices, pitch to new clients and diversify into awards.

Today, as mergers and acquisitions have bounced back, so have the deal toy makers. Ms Lindroos says last year “there were more deals, the phones were ringing and it was getting busier. Then, in 2014, even more so.”

Nonetheless, the business landscape is very different from the 1980s and 1990s, says Ms Russo, a former stockbroker: “Deal toys were elaborate and budgets were not so constrained.” That said, the design process then was a lot slower, when she had to liaise with clients by fax and post.

Typically a deal toy ranges between £30 and £200 apiece, with the average about £60, says Ms Lindroos. A set of 20 or so is usually distributed among bankers from different institutions who have worked on a deal.

It tends to be an analyst – the most junior banker on the team – who is charged with working with the deal toy maker.

The task can be stressful for anxious bankers hoping to impress their higher-ups. Ms Russo says many fret, for instance about deadlines for the dinner to commemorate the deal and hand out the Lucites. They worry that “the managing director will get [angry]”. So part of her role is to hold their hand and say: “I need you to trust me.” She adds: “I’ll do anything I can to make the analyst look like a hero.”

The worst jobs are those with tight deadlines. “What you are asking me to do is get pregnant and produce a baby in a few days,” says Ms Russo. Also difficult are bankers with grandiose ideas: “You can’t have a Mercedes for the price of a Volkswagen.”

Ms Lindroos recalls one project that spiralled out of control: the client wanted a rollercoaster, a zoo and lots of different animals. “It ended up looking really cluttered, but the client was adamant and it was something we could produce.” She says some of the Arabic banks want the largest pieces, mostly when marking energy deals. “[Those deal toys] are pretty extravagant and weigh a lot.”

A substantial amount of time is spent ensuring one bank’s logo does not dwarf another’s.

While outsiders may view deal toys as frivolous and trinkets, they are important in providing meaning to work, says Daniel Beunza, a specialist in the sociology of financial markets at the London School of Economics.

A merger, he says, can seem abstract to the bankers working on the deal, in contrast to, say, the factory workers in the companies being merged.

“Deal toys are helpful in that regard. They can be shown around, exhibited in the office, and are understandable by many people, inside and outside the bank – kids, partners, friends.”

Moreover, he says, they can provide a distraction from the vexed issue of bonuses. “By providing meaning and attributing credit to the overworked bankers involved in a deal, the hope is that less of their personal self-esteem will ride on the bonus.”


About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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