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A behind-the-scenes perspective on the world of high finance through a private equity review.
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A behind-the-scenes perspective on the world of high finance through a private equity review.

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The realm of private equity, as portrayed in Carrie Sun’s autobiography, evokes less the aggressive maneuvering depicted in HBO’s Succession, and instead evokes the subdued passion of a Sofia Coppola movie. The atmosphere at Carbon, a covert hedge fund (not its real name), is one of grandeur and guarded isolation, reminiscent of a velvet-draped library and a bathroom with marble sinks and stone walls. In response to employees’ complaints about the cleanliness of the restrooms, the company hires a woman to clean them after every single use.

At the intersection of her life, Sun, who is 29 years old, has reached a crucial point. She used to work as a financial analyst but left to pursue an MBA, which she later dropped out of. Her fiancé wanted her to prioritize him and his career over her own, causing her to feel dissatisfied. As a result, she took a fiction workshop in Manhattan. During this time, she is contacted by a recruiter and responds by saying, “I am in need of a job that allows me to figure out my future.” On her first day working as an assistant for Carbon founder and billionaire Boone Prescott (a pseudonym), Sun is invigorated by the thought of independence and excitedly messages the recruiter: “Great first day, I absolutely LOVE MY JOB!” Shortly after, she tells a friend that she was so busy she didn’t even have time to use the bathroom.

Soon, she will begin working on weekends at the office. She contacts the company’s preferred limousine service to pick up Prescott from his golf club, speaks with a top retail broker to rent a large beach house in Malibu for his surfing vacation, and handles requests like “find me Mitt Romney’s contact information”. The story of Sun reflects the common traits of the millennial generation – growing up in a financially unstable environment and losing oneself in work, only to discover that it cannot provide salvation – and highlights the excessive expectations placed on employees at the top of the capitalist hierarchy, as well as the narratives that justify such demands.

In conclusion, Carbon may not be seen as a hub of lavish Wall Street indulgence, but rather as a site of strict self-control and emphasis on “family” principles – where the corporation serves as a substitute for close relationships. Prescott, a mysterious figure who enjoys extreme sports and despises inefficiency, advises Sun to prioritize the team over oneself and the group over the individual. He also requests to be enrolled in a government program, reserved for VIPs, which grants expedited access through passport control.

Sun astutely discusses the detrimental impact of buying into these rigid family values within the company, noting the manipulation through comparisons to kinship and patriarchy. However, when it comes to reflecting on her own experiences, her understanding seems to falter. She admits to feeling “blank” on her first day and this apathy taints her self-reflections. While she sheds light on the harsh working conditions and growing political tension, she maintains a fondness for her job without delving into the reasons behind it.

The issue of self-alienation is discussed in the final sections, where Sun reflects on her upbringing in a Chinese immigrant household that prioritized achievement over emotions. While her personal journey towards becoming a writer is inspiring, it clashes with the previous depiction of significant societal disparities. Additionally, statements like “capitalism and trauma have merged into one narrative” seem shallow, as there are numerous forms of suffering and ways of living within a capitalist system, some easier or more harmful than others.

During a corporate gathering, Sun listens to a slideshow discussing Carbon’s future goals. The initial objective is to achieve “exceptionally high returns” for the next 15 years. Another slide highlights the company’s intention to make a positive impact on the community. Sun eagerly awaits to hear the management’s vision, only to see three letters displayed: “TBD”.

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Source: theguardian.com