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addabook - Bombardiers
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Bombardiers
Po Bronson
read on November 1, 2010

This was essentially Liars Poker: Part Two, but even more condemning. To be fair, this one is entirely a work of fiction, but I get the feeling there is some experience there to back it up. (I'm actually not sure about Bronson's background. My impression is that he was a trader/salesman turned novelist, but maybe not). Anyway, Bombardiers was highly entertaining, hilarious, and just vicious in it's depiction of Wall Street chop shops. I would say it's Liar's Poker meets Glenngary Glenn Ross. If you want to wrap your head around salesmanship, this'll get you there. It's everything everyone hates about car salesman, turned up to 11. Really fun, easy reading. Choice bits:

According to Sid Geeder, who did this better than anyone, success was only a question of how much they could lie before they felt guilty, and then how much guilt they could take before they suffered psychological malfunction.

One rather unrelated bit that struck me was one of the bond saleswoman's marriage plans. She and her partner were getting hung up on a prenup and found marriage law "limiting". So instead, they each formed personal corporations (think Jane Doe, LLC). They transferred all their personal assets to these corps, and then instead of getting married, they just merged corporations.

There was a long list of tax write-offs for acquiring a company but practically none at all for marring a man. And in case anything went wrong with their relationship, it was much easier to break apart two corporations than to go through the messy legal hassles of divorce.

Also, this may be pushing copyright boundaries, but page 284 of the paperback version is the best sales pitch I've ever come across, and it would just be unfair not to include it here. Definitely my favorite passage of the book

Since when is investing in corporate bonds not in your bylaws?" Sidney reasoned. "You just have to get it out of your head that this has anything to do with foreign governments. New Lincoln, Inc. is a United States corporation that will be listed on the New York Stock Exchange, file 10Ks with the IRS, and adhere to all regulations governing interstate commerce. It's partly owned by bluechip companies such as Ingenesis, Martin Marietta, and General Electric, which guarantees you I'm not selling you junk. Look, I can understand how you feel: the bonds are unusual, no question. It even took me a few days to get used to them, to see how much sense they made. Twenty years ago, they weren't even selling mortgage-backed securities in the open markets, but it took some visionary people to realize how much more efficient the market would be if we did. Ten years ago, nobody would touch junk bods with a ten-foot pole. But along came the visionaries. You have got to do a little soul-searching here. You have got to ask yourself whether you're a visionary investor, or whether you're just another sheep in the flock. Thats really the question here. There question is not whether these bonds would outperform CMO's in a down-rate environment, or whether Moody's labels these AA or AAA. The question at hand here the question you have to ask yourself is whether you've been studying portfolio investments all your life over there so that you can play it safe. I mean, do you really go to cocktail parties and brag about not having posted a loss in thirty-four consecutive quarters? Or do you brad about buying Microsoft in '84? That's what we've got here. We've got Microsoft in '84, and the ball is in your hands. You can play, or you can take a seat and watch. I'll say it again, you can play, or you can take a nosebleed seat in row ZZ next to a fat lady dumping popcorn down her throat. I said soul-searching, and I meant it. Men have only a few opportunities like this in their life. Men dream about chances like this. I'm talking not just being part of financial history. You've got a chance to be part of world history. I'll lay it out for you. All these foreign governments around the world are suddenly picking up on democracy and turning themselves around. But democracy is an American invention, and we ought to be the ones capitalizing on it. We really should be charging a royalty. We should be licensing democracy. But until someone figures out how to accomplish that, the best thing we can do is turn these countries around ourselves. Why let someone else profit from it? Look, in the eighties, for a while this technique became really popular to buy a shitty company with bonds and turn the company around real quick to pay off the bonds. We kept doing it and we kept doing it until there weren't any shitty companies anymore. And then it occurred to us, 'Hey! Why limit ourselves just to companies?' Why not scoop up shitty countries, fix 'em up, and sell for a big profit? And I'm telling you, there's some real dogs out there that need a face-lift. And you've got to ask yourself whether you've got the balls to play this game. Have you got the gonads to be a part of history? Are you a man who, when the opportunity arises, can let them all hang out? In ancient Greece, they used to have eunuchs guard the women, because the eunuchs were safe. They didn't take risks. When the men went off to war, when the men charged into battle, the eunuchs were at home combing the women's hair and sipping tea. And you've got to ask yourself: you've got to ask yourself whether you're a eunuch, or whether you're a man. There's no middle ground here. Eunuch or man. Man or eunuch. Are you on earth to comb hair and sip tea, or are you on earth to fuck?" 

There was a long pause on the line. 

"I'm no eunuch," the trust manager responded shyly.

Author Bio:

Bronson was born in Seattle, Washington. After attending Lakeside School in Seattle, he graduated from Stanford University in 1986, and briefly worked as an assistant bond salesman in San Francisco. Bronson abandoned finance to pursue writing, publishing short stories and eventually a comedic novel based upon his bond trading experiences. This first novel, Bombardiers (1995), was an international best seller.