Head of the documentation unit

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People Anatomy™
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See also the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

The head of the documentation unit is an accursed person in an investment bank, although he is usually the last one to recognise this. This poor sod is responsible for the performance of the sainted men and women tasked with making contractual flesh the fantastical aspirations of the credit department: the ISDA Negotiators.

One earns this Sisyphean task only to atone for a sin committed in a former life, or as an act of spite, vengeance or perverse cruelty from someone else further up the organisation than you. So, keep your friends close and — when it comes promotion time — your enemies closer.

In an investment bank, being a place of universal grasping fixation on advancement, it isn’t hard to find a stooge to take the role: all you have to do is present it as a stretch assignment. It is an opportunity for advancement, you see: managing three hundred people, in six centres across seven time zones, with a chance to overhaul a broken process and rock the house on a franchise-critical operational function.

Who would not leap at that?

A person with a cautious or reflective nature, that’s who. So, when they come for you, ask yourself this: why are they asking me to do this and not someone already in, or with some understanding of, the documentation unit? These people know something you don’t. Do not fall for their lionisation of your people management skills. IT ISN’T ABOUT PEOPLE MANAGEMENT.

Running the documentation unit is thankless not because of the negotiators — by and large, a perfectly pleasant, capable and long-suffering bunch, though not unknown to have cabin fever or the fractious personalities of family pets that have been kicked too often — but, because of its cost, heft, and inevitably negative impact on the franchise. It is therefore an irresistible target for the malign ministrations of the hoard of change managers, management consultants and chief operating officers who roam unchecked in a modern investment bank. They see manifold opportunity to implement their sacred maxims: offshoring, outsourcing, operationalising, automating — all of kind of easily-spoken ideas will flood their feverish minds.

These ideas, cribbed from academic texts and theoretical models which have never experienced the horror of peering into the depths of an ISDA Master Agreement, will override any practical thoughts the poor head of the documentation unit might have had to fix things, but not before they have been co-opted, amalgamated, misinterpreted, brutalized and systematically forced through a sieve of business administration dogma until they are unrecognizable, unworkable, inexcusable, and profoundly the fault of the head of the documentation unit.

At that point (indeed, long before), he — or she — is generally regarded as a dead man walking.[1]

See also


  1. Readers who sense that the author has experienced these sensations from close range would be absolutely right.