Press - Articles: Financial Times: October 2002  

"A Day in the Life of Peter Burditt"

Peter Burditt is founder and Principal of Strategic Development Consultants and provides strategic coaching and mentoring to clients ranging from CEOs to senior executives, primarily in the investment banking sector. Having been a successful investment banker, Peter spent 5 years studying Gestalt psychology.

My first client arrives at 7.30am. He’s a trader from a bulge bracket house, en route to work, and is typical of clients who like the first, early morning appointment. He found SDC through personal recommendation. He is being groomed to take over the management of an internal “hedge fund”. Whilst he is a very good trader, he wants to be coached on how to manage a broader set of personalities, from experienced but relatively uneducated, old style traders, to the more sophisticated derivatives structurers.

The issue is how much time he should spend trading and how much time managing. This is more complex than it appears. The inherent drive for this high performance individual to be successful stems from a tough childhood with a father who was uncompromising and emotionally distant. He now has to learn how to “forgive” staff their “off days” or short term under-performances, which might be due a range of things like family pressures such as births, deaths and marriages. Once in a safe place, it’s surprising how quickly this “tough-minded” trader softens to reveal his innermost anxieties. But as he sees his team contributing £300,000 each to his bonus, he starts to get excited about how he can motivate them and the dollar signs turn him into a willing mentor himself.

The CEO of a major investment management firm arrives at 9.30am. His dilemma in these difficult times is to find the balance between creating products his salespeople can sell, whilst maintaining the morale of his equity department when (a) their funds have dropped in absolute value and (b) they have under-performed relative to the indices. This is the first taste of “failure” his team has had to face. Having prided himself on always being right, the criticisms from his sales force have been a major blow to his confidence. The mentoring process is about how to separate his sense of self-worth and esteem from the global economic downturn, and to instil in him the robustness, courage and honesty to make some very difficult structural changes, including making redundant people he may have been at university with.

At 11.30am, I’m at Canary Wharf for a two-hour strategic development session with the head of structured derivatives group. The challenge for this divisional CEO is how to pare down the number of clients covered, then redistribute the remainder to a high quality relationship team, which itself needs to be reduced by 30% to meet the bank’s headcount target. Discussions include a review of the 3600 and annual appraisal reports to determine who is best suited to provide cover for the remaining, highly remunerative clients – from those who have solid relationship skills, but are not the brightest, and those who are bright but are too high maintenance and will be asked to leave. At this point, an HR representative is called in to share the strategy, advise on recommendations and instigate the redundancy process.

At 2.30pm, I am at the Institute of Directors, where I am one of six accredited coaches. Today, I am coaching the CEO of a financial services company. He sought coaching when he was about to be made CEO. Now that he has been made CEO, he needs to balance his dominant personality coming from the finance function, with being more of a joint custodian of policy, strategy and governance, whilst at the same time acting as conductor of the orchestra to ensure that the voices of marketing, IT and retail sales are heard.

According to his chairman, his promotion to CEO has given him a licence to continue with highly controlling and directive behaviour despite the Chairman diplomatically suggesting he has rough edges that need work. My client is reluctant to adjust his style. His abrasiveness is in danger of disaffecting his board colleagues. I suggest a course of action and he reflects how lonely it feels being chief executive and distanced from colleagues he previously treated as friends. We begin to explore the fine line between being a leader with shareholders’ interests uppermost in his mind, setting clear direction for others to follow, whilst simultaneously being starkly clear with his board members that there will be times when the buck stops with him and they have a choice whether to follow or leave.

(edited version)

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