Scene 1 [Monday 10 a.m.]
She didn’t know if it would win her a promotion or get her fired, but wild horses couldn’t keep Kayla from speaking up.
“Right, who’s got something for me?” 75-year-old billionaire hedge fund manager, Sammy Prescott, barked at the faces sitting around the massive boardroom table. As the legendary Chief Investment Officer of PrescottBlake Investments, the most successful hedge fund in the world, Prescott demanded fresh investment ideas from his portfolio managers (PMs) at every weekly team meeting to keep his 18-billion-dollar fund pumping out wealth month after month.
Twenty-seven-year-old Kayla sat along the wall with the other analysts. Only PMs sat at the table. The class system was alive and well on Wall Street. She shifted nervously and looked again at her notes, though she was perfectly prepared as always. Should she go first? Why not, she thought. What did she have to lose except, well, pretty much everything?
Samuel Prescott, or Sammy P. as he was known in the finance world, was famous for hurling thick presentation books he didn’t like across the room, like wounded birds, then yelling in his thick cockney accent, “NO NO NOOOOOO!!!!!” Or sometimes, when he was in a better mood, he would say, calmly, “Stupid, ridiculous, next.” Most of the poor victims would be gone from the New York hedge fund by the end of the day, their careers in ruins.
In the two years since Kayla had started her job at PrescottBlake Investments, or PBI as it was known on Wall Street, no analyst had ever volunteered an investment idea, only PMs. So what? Kayla thought. I’ll be the first. It was her burning ambition to become a portfolio manager. She straightened in her seat and softly cleared her throat and—
“I’ve got something,” offered Vineet, the head of research. “Ecuador’s ten-year bond is down six points from where it was issued last month. Inflation’s been running at—”
“Don’t mess me about Vineet, you’re pitching me an idea that at best will earn three to four percent—”
“But with leverage—”
“Oh Christ, yes, Vineet, let’s take a crap idea and add leverage! It’ll still be a crap idea only much riskier! NEXT!
Kayla could see that Sammy P. was feeling the pressure – maybe as much as he’d ever felt in his illustrious career. After decades of industry-leading investment performance, PBI was in the middle of its worst slump ever. It was so bad, last week the Wall Street Journal had run a front-page story: “Has Samuel Prescott Lost His Golden Touch?”
“Anyone else? I’m paying you people a fortune – prove to me you deserve it. Or do I need to cull the herd?”
Kayla again summoned all her inner fortitude and was on the verge of speaking when—
“I’ve got something,” said Ricardo, one of the senior PMs. “After the merger of Consolidated Industries with AGT, they spun off one of their businesses, Arch Homes, which is trading at a 25 percent discount to our estimate of its value.”
The room collectively held its breath, waiting to see what Samuel would do. Meetings where he ranted and raved had become more and more frequent over the last few months.
Kayla noticed darkly handsome James Prescott, Samuel’s son, sitting at the table. She envied his easy life and resented his suspiciously smooth path to being promoted to PM several months ago. Oh well, she thought, that’s what I get for not being born rich. It doesn’t matter, I can outsmart and out-hustle that guy any day of the week.
“Ricardo, my lad. Arch Homes was a bloody awful business 25 years ago, it was a bloody awful business when it was bought by AGT and do you know what, Ricardo?”
“I know it’s not a super high qual—”
“IT’S STILL A BLOODY AWFUL BUSINESS!”
“I have something.” Kayla’s voice was clear and composed, though her heart was pounding so hard she could hear it. Total silence. All heads turned to see where the words came from.
“Who said that?” asked Samuel. Kayla raised her hand. “Well, well, well. Yes, my love, tell us your idea. I don’t know your name - and depending on what you say, I may never learn it.”
“My name is Kayla Hartman. My idea is Charbonneau”.
One of the PMs stifled a snicker. Samuel’s eyes widened just a bit and he leaned forward. “Tell me,” he demanded.
Her voice never wavered. “As you know, Charbonneau is a sprawling French conglomerate that just sold off their cutting-edge semiconductor division for 15 billion euros to build up a cash pile to pay for potential legal claims relating to their failed nuclear power plant. No one wants to touch the stock because its best business is gone, the litigation risk is potentially massive, and the remaining hodgepodge of businesses are assumed to either be worthless or too small to move the needle. Plus, the CEO is regarded as the worst in France. At 12 euros per share on the Paris exchange, the stock price is down 85 percent.”
Kayla gulped down a breath, adrenaline surging through her veins. This was her chance to win a seat at the PM table at PBI, something she’d dreamed of for years. Investing was in her blood – she had a burning passion for it.
“Hmm,” Samuel murmured. Kayla thought she detected a faint gleam in his eye. “Tell me more, er, Kayla.”
“My thesis is in three parts.” Her voice was strong and confident. “One. My French legal contacts are convinced the litigation risk is limited. To be confirmed. Two. I’ve done a full valuation of their five largest remaining businesses and have come to a sum of the parts valuation of 11 billion euros, compared to its stock market valuation of five billion. Three. There are credible rumors the CEO is about to be pushed out by the largest shareholder. My base case is for an 80 percent return in three to six months.”
She stopped and waited. Everyone turned from her to look at Samuel. He stared at her, motionless, apparently deep in thought. After what seemed like a full thirty seconds, he said, simply: “Yes. I like it.”
“But their financials are a complete mess,” said Ricardo.
“Which is why there’s an opportunity,” said Samuel.
“French litigation is hopelessly opaque,” objected Vineet.
“Not to the top French legal firms, who we will hire,” said Samuel.
Kayla was flying. She couldn’t wait to get to work.
Samuel said, “Kayla, come sit at the table.” There was a slight but audible gasp. One of the PMs, red faced, gave up his seat to Kayla, nearly spilling his venti cappuccino in the process. “When can you finish your work?”
Kayla remembered to sit up straight, like her mother had taught her: shoulders back and head held high. “I’ve prepared a research plan which I can complete in three weeks.”
“Too long. I want a preliminary report in three days.”
“Um… okay, I can – I can do that.”
“And James will lead the project.”
She was too stunned to speak for a second. Then, “But sir, it was my idea and I think—”
“Bollocks. You’re a child. You’ll work under James.”
Kayla tried to object again but the meeting quickly moved on. After her moment of pure joy, she was in shock and agony. She’d have to work for a man she deeply resented for not having paid his dues. And if the idea worked out, James would get the credit! She barely knew James but felt intense dislike for him – his inherited wealth and position represented everything she hated, the exact opposite of her own experience. She looked across the table at him. This was as close as she’d ever been to James. To add to her anguish and confusion, she registered his ruggedly attractive face and swimmers’ physique and experienced a slight twinge – but hastily dismissed the feeling.
Sammy P. closed the meeting, saying to Kayla and James, “You two get busy. I’m putting in an order to our trading desk right now to buy 50 million bucks worth of Charbonneau shares at--” he checked his iPad, “at 11 and three quarters a share. It’s just a tiny starter position to make sure you both stay focused while you complete your research. You have three days. Don’t disappoint me!”