A Client Alone is a Client in Trouble


As a broker it is part of my job to arrange trips for clients, fund managers mostly, to come out to the region and visit companies. These trips can take place all in one city, like Hong Kong, or in other countries like Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, etc. The further the place is from Hong Kong the more interesting the trip. Ostensibly, the client (our fund manager) on these trips is here to work, spending all day visiting management from listed companies and asking careful questions to help him determine whether the stock is a good buy or a “good bye.” But it isn’t all work and no play and this is especially true when far from home in the exotic Far East.

Reginald

This time the client in question, Reginald, was a senior PM (portfolio manager) from a large British institution whose investment style was your basic “long only,” or buy and hold strategy. Reginald was somewhat formal, a product of the British public school system, and slightly balding with the look of a harried accountant but at least he had a sense of humor. His fund held largish positions in various blue chip stocks around the region and he was coming out to Korea this time to look at some of the companies they owned and a few they might be interested in owning. We had arranged a pretty good schedule for the week he would spend in Korea with us. I had made sure that we only had one meeting on Friday as he had to fly out that night and would be exhausted by then.

It all started out rather benign. The first two days were spent driving back and forth across busy Seoul with an analyst or two in tow to help translate – not many companies there speak English. Wednesday came and he wanted to go out so we took him to a traditional Korean restaurant and drank a lot of the local potato firewater, soju. It goes down pretty easy but can leave you feeling rough the next day especially if you pile a lot of beer and spicy food on top of it, which of course, we did.

The Fateful Night

Thursday was a long day with most of our meetings crammed in for some reason and at the end of it we had another night out. This time, in hindsight I realize, I shouldn’t have invited our traders. Sales traders know all the best and rowdiest spots and these guys were plugged in. Living in Hong Kong I didn’t know Seoul well and as this was my last night I just followed their lead and relaxed since I had to fly home Friday. The client only had one meeting on Friday at a refinery two hours out of town and we had a junior analyst going with him to handle the translation. Easy. So tonight, we party.

The Room Salon

After more Korean food and a lot more soju and beer we trooped off to a “room salon.” Room salons are the favored hangouts of the Korean (and Chinese and Japanese) male where you rent a room for karaoke. There is more than just singing, however, as the whisky flows and they have pretty girls. The job of the girls, who are usually knock outs, is to keep the party going, pouring drinks and playing drinking games with the guys who lose these games and have to keep drinking. It is usually a fun time and can get pretty crazy depending on the place and how much booze is consumed. Sometimes the girls are hookers, or at least “enthusiastic amateurs,” but usually they aren’t. They make enough with this job without having to sleep with the customer.

I had a morning flight out so I stayed on to the end of the evening with no regrets, drinking, singing, playing and losing those drinking games with the girls. They were friendly and we had a great time. The sales traders consumed vast amounts of Johnnie Walker and made sure no one else was left out. We were wasted and come 2:30 in the morning it was time to leave. Reginald was incoherent and totally smashed. It took me and two of the traders to hoist him to his feet and walk him out to the car. By the time we got to the hotel he woke up enough to get to his room. I said goodbye to Reginald in the hallway and reminded him to set the alarm for the ungodly hour of 6:30 AM so he would get up in time for the 7:00 AM car to take him to, what now appeared to be a really stupid idea, some lonely refinery way out of town. I bumped into the walls as I weaved my way down the hall to my room and crashed. Job done.

The Aftermath

Several days later, I received this email from him:

“Derek,

Thank you so much for arranging such a pleasant trip for me to Korea last week. It was a shame you had to depart early and were not able to accompany me the last day. You will be happy to know I did wake up – to the phone ringing and somebody pounding on the hotel door. It appears I did not hear my alarm. It also became apparent I slept on the bed, in my suit and tie, with my shoes on for the few precious hours of sleep I had. Your analyst, Mr. Kim, was very understanding but demanded we leave now or we wouldn’t make our meeting. I was not given time to even change my very wrinkled shirt and after a quick use of the john followed him out the door with my notes and files in his capable hands. I don’t remember the drive to the blasted refinery as I slept the entire way. I woke up as we pulled into the grounds and was more than a little startled to look out the window and see a vast crowd of smiling people. There must have been two hundred or more of them. My greeting committee! Above them in large black English letters hung an enormously awful banner which read, “XXXXXXX Steel Co. Welcomes Mr. XXXX of XXXXXXX Investment Mgt!!” Dear God, I had to climb out of the car and do my best not to fall down and to appear sober while wrinkled, unshaven, with a few hours sleep and no brekkie. It was a ghastly scene. To make matters even more excruciating, Chairman Kim was there and graciously came over to shake hands while the analyst, Mr. Kim, was translating. There was even a bloody photographer snapping pictures of the ‘ceremony’ whilst the two hundred spectators continued smiling quietly in benevolent approval. All the while I was doing my best not to throw up. The rest of the senior management team followed suit with handshakes and greetings and we were standing there in the hot sun for at least half a bloody hour before I was ushered inside to begin the mandatory tour of their fine facility. I confess I do not know a refinery from a steel mill and after putting on the hard hat I was dragged from one end to the other of the bloody place. Finally, after an eternity we were allowed back in to the office building and waving to the now re-assembled crowd of workers, I made a dash for the loo before the long ride back to the city. When I was washing my hands I looked up in the mirror and to my horror, I saw on my forehead as bright as the shining sun, a big red pair of lips courtesy of one of the girls last night, I suppose. You can imagine my distress that this “kiss mark” was emblazoned on my forehead the whole day with nobody saying a thing. Now my dilemma, do I wash it off and walk outside to the adoring throng pretending nothing had happened? Or rather, do I leave it on, letting the crowd believe I don’t know about it and sparing them the embarrassment of them knowing I saw this?

As you callously left me in this situation I leave it to your imagination my decision.

Regards.

Reginald

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Albert Lai
    October 28, 2011
    3:33 pm #comment-1

    Like the term ‘enthusiastic amateurs’ LOL

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