After 35 years of stockbroking for some of the biggest houses and investors in Australia and the UK, the Secret Broker is regaling Stockhead readers with his colourful war stories — from the trading floor to the dealer’s desk.

Well, we have Christmas coming up and restaurants booking diaries are filling up fast.

I know this, as one of the restaurants I have an interest in had to bump my booking to another day because the local RTA office wanted it for their Christmas party. The cheek!

I reckon the real reason behind all of the sackings at Facebook and Twitter is so they can also cancel the Xmas parties, as they have become a legal nightmare.

Zoom-based parties may be a safer option, as now HR department questions are raised on who groped who and who paid for their last drink. Company or themselves? Whose liability is it? Theirs or ours?

Going back to my very first Xmas office piss-up as a fresh faced teenager was both good and bad for me.

Being 16 meant I wasn’t really legally allowed into a pub to drink but in London at that time, it was the main event of the office banter. Everyone made sure you could be snuck in.

So getting let in to all these parties was good for me, as they were free and all of my mates were still at school studying for exams.

The downside for me though was all the drunken married women that would hit on me, as most of their male colleagues were married, overweight and beaten down. I, obviously, was young, single and ridiculously good looking. Well, that’s what mum said.

Getting a snog and a grope from Sally from typing was ok but when Sweaty Betty from accounts started to approach, an urgent ‘wingman/woman needed over here now’ safe word would be loudly deployed.

All you had to shout out was ‘has anyone got the time’ and everyone knew someone was in trouble.

In Betty’s case it would need to be a rugby tackle once she had you in her sight, otherwise you were a goner.

That was in December 1980, and my first encounter of the wildside of how an alcohol induced and sexually frustrated night would start and end. Anyone could get off with anyone they wanted and the alcohol flow was encouraged via the open bar policy.

By December 1983 though, there was a bit of a market downturn and in the lead-up to Christmas, a few of my friends and colleagues were laid off.

I had seen it coming though, as in October the firm announced where the Xmas party would be held. This year, because of the market slump, if you wanted to go you had to pay a £10 fee in advance towards the party costs.

This had never happened before.

As it turns out, the partners had employed the services of a ‘cost cutter’, or ‘toe cutter’ as we called him. He was an American turnaround expert and his name was, well, let’s call him Ross Paulo. He was 50, tall, ex army, short grey hair, fit and dressed very sharp.

He became known as the ‘smiling assassin’ as he was as nice as pie to your face but behind closed doors he was ruthless.

The reason I remember the £10 pre-party payment so clearly was because when you put your name down with Sara (the posh name for Sarah), she took everyone’s note. And when the smiling assassin sacked you for ‘cost cutting’ reasons, you were given your exact £10 note back.

You see, Sara was the smiling assassin’s PA and she knew who was going to be sacked. Even as she took the person’s money and said upon confirmation of registration ‘enjoy yourself, I won’t be going’, she paper clipped it to their upcoming ‘no longer required’ letter.

If Sara or Ross had turned up they would have been lynched, as it was The Toe Cutter’s idea of ‘reducing office costs’.

Now, if Elon had taken a leaf out of my former employer’s knowledge of the good and bad times, he would have employed someone like Ross to do all the sackings.

It keeps you once removed and you can always get out of the corner by saying ‘sorry it wasn’t my decision’, and it’s technically true. Even though you ordered the mass culling, it wasn’t you pulling the actual trigger.

So, the 1983 Xmas party was looking to be a bit of a sad event, until something left field turned the whole atmosphere upside down.

 

Toe Cutter, meet boot

Us plebs would have our offices downstairs, no carpet and a 2p a plastic cup coffee machine, whereas the partners upstairs had thick carpet and a tea trolley commanded by Alice (40C in the shade), who served them real tea and real biscuits with real bone china cups, saucers and plates.

The day before our £10 part-paid party, our senior partner came down to our level to read out his annual ‘wish us all a good Christmas’ speech.

When he walked into our office, we all had to stand up as a sign of respect. It was only once a year and always the day before he jetted out to the very sunny island of Mustique for a month’s holiday.

We were left to the harsh English winter and because one of the other partners was Hugh Tennant, whose brother owned the whole island, he and the missus could go and rub shoulders with Princess Margaret (a very late-paying client) and the like.

Unbeknown to us, just before he came to our office, the senior partner had gotten a bit lost on his ‘once a year visit to the troops’ journey downstairs and ended up in the Toe Cutter’s office by mistake. And as it turned out, Ross had been making himself very comfy.

So when he felt the luxurious carpet underfoot and saw some of the partners’ artwork (which was supposed to be in storage) hanging on the walls, he was outraged.

In the battle of egos, this carpet was at least three times as expensive as that in his very own office. And, as he was the company’s big cheese, with royalty as clients (only the damaged ones mind you, but still up there) he promptly sacked the Yank, there and then on the spot!

The smiling assassin just got his own bullet between the eyes. Ha!

The very next day, as the news filtered through the office, the atmosphere was electric and followed us all down to the pub and on to our party. Even Sweaty Betty was allowed to steal a kiss from me under the mistletoe. (Luckily for me, whisky was allowed to be ordered and boy did I gargle some that night.)

Sara never turned up though, as we all reckoned the smiling (and very married) assassin was doing to her what he had been doing to all of us.

And we were never asked to pay any money towards our Xmas party ever again!

 

The Secret Broker can be found on Twitter here @SecretBrokerAU or on email at [email protected].

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