Wall Street flees coronavirus and glimpses its mortality

Gregg Lemkau is going through a difficult time in paradise. Goldman Sachs’ co-manager of investment banking had come to Hawaii with his wife and four children for a family vacation. Then the coronavirus spread. The Lemkaus therefore decided to stay rather than return to New York.

From his retirement on the island, Mr. Lemkau begins to work at 1 am every day to keep up with the people of Wall Street. Telephone and video calls with information-hungry business leaders and colleagues who want to stay in touch continue late into the night. Soon, his children will follow the same schedule backwards as they begin “distance education” with their schools in the east.

“Being in Hawaii sounds better than it actually is,” said sleep-deprived Lemkau, who was mocked this week by posting a photo on Twitter of his improvised office, along with a view of a Hawaiian kissed by the sun dune. (“God’s work has no time zone,” wrote Eric Weiss, founder of a blockchain company. Lemkau’s sister Holly offered to send candles and launched the hashtag #helpBrotherGregg ).

Wall Street is locked out. Like Mr. Lemkau, many of his troops fled their natural habitat in Manhattan to overcome the pandemic in second homes and vacation properties in Southampton, Palm Beach, the Hudson River Valley and other fashionable places.

The result was a world shock: the sound of barking dogs and finicky children became commonplace during conference calls. People who are used to late office hours and marathon trips now spend an unusual amount of time with this group of unknown people known as their family.

“You wake up, have a cup of coffee with your family, check your emails and maybe exercise,” said Ori Winitzer, a private equity investor who took refuge with his wife and children in New York County, some 100 miles away. north of Wall Street. But for essential matters, he added, “The general feeling I have is that people are getting a little bit isolated. It takes a little longer for the emails to come back. It does not matter if a call is postponed until the next day, instead of occurring at 8:30 p.m. I personally wonder how many people still trigger an alarm each day. “

George Muzinich, the veteran bond fund manager, expressed suspicion of being guilty of being at his weekend home in Palm Beach when the epidemic sped up and went fairly well – but lack of liquidity on the market. “Life is not too bad,” he said. “I feel bad saying that!”

In the middle of the idyll, there are reminders of mortality: as with the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, all calls begin with a discussion of the ongoing tragedy. Everyone, Mr. Lemkau and Mr. Winitzer included, seems to know someone with the virus – in some cases critically.

“We try to stay strong and positive while facing the reality of our own cases of people who test positive,” said Lemkau, noting that it was “more than just a disruption to our business.” “.

There is also financial mortality. While the markets have changed in the past few weeks, often violently, some hedge funds have collapsed and there is speculation about who is in danger. Of course, fortunes have also been made. Bill Ackman’s Pershing Square Capital said it made a profit of $ 2.6 billion on a derivatives trade this week after correctly judging a few days ago that the “hell” of coronaviruses was coming.

Gregg Lemkau, Global Co-Head of Investment Banking at Goldman Sachs, posted this image to his Twitter account with the message: “Week 2 #WFH. Great in concept. . . unfortunately, “in concept” only occurs when the sun rises 6 hours in the working day. ”

For now, the feeling among many Wall Streeters that this crisis is not as severe as the one they endured in 2008. In this case, Wall Street was the epicenter and the existential threat to financial institutions. This time, Wall Street is another industry that suffers from collateral damage and hopes that life – and work – will resume at the end of the epidemic.

“The general feeling is that we will rebound faster than before the financial crisis, so everyone wants to be ready for this,” said Leon Kalvaria, chairman of the Citigroup institutional client group, who took refuge with his family. in Southampton.

In the meantime, there is the challenge of working remotely, and a professional life now almost entirely achieved by virtual means. Ros L’Esperance, global co-manager of banking operations at UBS, used to working weekends from his home in Locust Valley, on the north shore of Long Island, the technical configuration was already in place. His day is a blur of videoconferences and conference calls that begins with a recording at 6 am with Europe and Asia.

“Being connected with all of the division’s bankers is extremely important because we need to keep internal communication as transparent as possible with senior and junior bankers,” she said. At the end of the corridor, two of his adult children work in their bedroom, while two younger children are studying.

“What I love [on zoom calls] look at people’s book cases – the amount of John Grisham. . . they have over there. And they are educated people! A senior banker spoke of the glimpse he had in the personal space of his colleagues.

For others, accustomed to the adrenaline rush on Wall Street, the tranquility of quarantine is a struggle. “It’s very monotonous. You get up and read emails and keep going, ”said a hedge fund executive. “Even in 2008, there was a little excitement. You were watching the news, you were in the middle. This is different. ”

Eric Schiele, one of Kirkland & Ellis’ best corporate lawyer, first looked at his home in Rye, New York, Westchester County – only to find that there was a group of cases in the nearby town of New Rochelle. He and his wife and three children fled to a remote area of ​​the Georgia-South Carolina border where “social distancing” is the norm.

Mr. Schiele brought his hectic life with him. “It’s crazy. It’s one call after another with boards of directors and leaders,” he said. “To exercise, I sent photos of the equipment that I have access to here from my personal trainer and he sets up a training plan for me every week which is great. ”

Not everything can be hacked with video technology, smart workarounds, or financial resources – even for a Wall Street bigwig. “What’s been more difficult is keeping my six-year-old in my office with our three dogs behind and interrupting a conference call with a CEO or a board of directors,” said Schiele. . Then he thought, “But the truth is, everyone is going through there.”

Take heart, Brother Gregg.

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