Seen With Cloos: John LeFevre
In this month's Seen With Cloos, we're honored to introduce author, entrepreneur and former investment banker John LeFevre. Having created the anonymous, world-famous @GSElevator Twitter account, LeFevre is sometimes considered the founder of the "fin-meme"-culture. Get behind the loyal Clooser's motivation for a radical change of career path, cynicism towards the banking industry and much more in this exclusive interview.
What was your initial motivation to create the @GSElevator Twitter account?
It was 2011. And if you remember back to that time, it was right in the middle of Occupy Wall Street. There was this huge wave of anti-Wall Street about the greed and corruption of Wall Street that contributed to the financial crisis. At some point, I was in Hong Kong at a bar with some friends of mine. And we were talking about how much outrage there was against investment banking, culture, and we concluded – wow, imagine how much more they would be upset and outraged if they really, really knew what was actually said and done, how deviant the culture was, how corrupt the deals were, etc.
At the time, I had just left from one firm to join Goldman Sachs. And when I did that, my old boss sued me for the non-compete clause in my contract. And that actually prevented me contractually from working in finance for a year, and so I was just traveling around Asia. And that's when I set up the Twitter account. It just literally started as a joke, tweeting about things that that we had said or overheard that represented that same anti-Wall Street mentality.
If I look back during my entire career in banking, I was always very cynical about the industry. As soon as I got into banking, I looked around, and I realized that people weren't nearly as smart as they thought they were, the job was not nearly as difficult as people gave credit to. And I thought people in society held Wall Street bankers in much higher esteem than they probably should have.
What were your expectations when starting the account, relative to what you have actually accomplished today?
That's a great question. Theoretically, it started as a joke, but it went viral straightaway – within a week it was in the New York Post, the New York Times and The Financial Times.
The entire time during my career in investment banking, I was writing down stories and taking notes. And I thought, one day, I'm going to write a book about these anecdotes. As soon within a week of the Twitter account, and given the first response, I thought I'm going to use this as a steppingstone to get publicity to write my book. And so that's what I did. Then after the book came out, I figured, well, there's only so much that you can say or do about the culture of Wall Street before it gets repetitive. Between all platforms, I had over a million followers and this big audience of mostly educated, affluent finance-orientated men, aged 18 to 40. So, I said, what am I going to do with this demographic? Because I've written successfully about various things, whether it's travel or drinking or fashion, I decided to shift into fashion. It was a good way to extract value from having this this social media platform, and so that was the whole evolution from Twitter to book to entrepreneurial pursuits.
Today, so much I have done have all stemmed from having started and grown the Twitter account – which has by far outreached my expectations.
In your opinion, what are the best and worst parts of being an investment banker?
Going into finance is one of the best things that you can do to start your career. Because it gives you immediate validation, it's a prestigious job and highly sought after.
The fact that you can even get a job there gives you a validation that you can carry with you in every other aspect of your professional and personal life. And then one of the things that amazed me when I got there is just how well resourced you are. Immediately after you show up. you get a full team of people and a franchise behind. If I had a legal question, a lawyer was a phone call away, if I had an IT problem, it would be fixed in 10 minutes. Even as a junior investment banker, you have access to CEO, CFO, and founder level clients, in all different industries.
However, I think the best part is also a dangerous part. You're working on deals and transactions that may the make the Wall Street Journal. And that's very, very exciting, but it can also lead to inflated egos. You tend to think that the world revolves around you, which is where you probably need to come back down to earth. Once you're surrounded in that atmosphere where everything is so efficient and so competitive, you tend to get detached from how the real world works. An analogy that illustrates that is, that when I used to come for Christmas and visit my family in Texas, it was such an adjustment to reality in terms of how different the real world was. My mom used to joke that I, to re-acclimatize into the real world, I needed to go walk around Walmart for 20 minutes straight to see how normal people’s lives were.
I can’t say for myself that experiences a worst part of investment banking. But again, I would say that the best part can be the worst part. Because it's dangerous that you have all these resources, all this freedom. You easily attribute the successes, the deals that you work on, to your own contribution, and you probably give more credit to yourself, then you give to the franchise.
Do you have any advice to young investment bankers?
I have a few pieces of advice that I can give based on the biggest mistakes I have made in my career.
First, I think it's important to know a little bit about everything. Be intellectually curious. That is what makes you a good conversationalist, with a client, with a boss, with a superior. It makes you more interesting to sit next on an airplane. I can't stress the importance of social and emotional intelligence enough. This is an aspect of the job that is, in my opinion, equally important than having the right technical or modeling skills. So, one piece of advice is that you shouldn't get hung up too much on the modeling and the technical skills, because there’s much, much more to it than that.
The second thing that I think is very important is the power of networking. When I used to go to roadshow meetings, there would be 100 portfolio managers, 20 bankers and the full executive team from the client side, and everybody would exchange business cards. I've walked out of those meetings many times throwing the business cards in the trashcan thinking I didn't need them anymore.
But in many cases, those same people have gone on to be influential people in the corporate world, in the tech world, in the startup world, in the political sphere. And I did not value the importance of networking, quite frankly, because I was either too arrogant, or I just assumed that, that those people would need my business card more than I would need theirs. Really, I should have been collecting and fostering those relationships much more.
This is an important piece of advice especially to young bankers today, because the workplace landscape is so much more fluid nowadays. There's a lot more mobility in finance now compared to 20 years ago.
John, you have quite a unique story with the brand that we want to briefly touch upon. How does it feel to know that you were the original driver of the actual first revenue In Cloos with your holiday gift guide back in 2017?
First of all, I would rather give all credit to Julius and to you guys. It's always good to help people when you can, but when I say it's all about Julius, it is because at the time, I was still very careful in who I wanted to work with. It was very important for me to be authentic to my audience.
There were people offering to pay me $5,000 per tweet. And I would say no more often than not, because I did not want to exploit the audience and kind of take advantage of the platform. When I was doing the gift guide, it was genuinely curated based on what I was interested in, and what I liked. And I think that's one of the reasons why it was so popular.
I wanted to work with Cloos first of all because I absolutely loved the product. I've always loved sunglasses, and to me it is one of the most important accessories. I was very impressed with the quality and design of the Cloos sunglasses. I could tell immediately that this was an angle that I thought would really resonate with my audience. You go to the beach and you see 100 guys with the same Ray Bans, Persol or Prada sunglasses. And here was something that was a little bit more different, a little bit more stylish, but still not over-styled. They go hand in hand with a classic look.
Secondly, I thought Julius was a really impressive guy. Very ambitious and persistent to the point of making sure that it that it would be successful. So, I was actually really proud to promote the product.