Wall Street hasn't lost its shine

OLD-SCHOOL CUSTOM: Eddie's Shoe Repair in New York's Rockefeller Center focuses on the classic experience of having one's shoes shined at a parlour, offering customers a 15-minute shoeshine and the opportunity to banter with owner Hugo Ardaix.


    Aug 27, 2013

    Wall Street hasn't lost its shine

    MR MAURICIO Dias was being courted by Wall Street. After losing his job at investment bank Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette when it was sold to Credit Suisse, he received a phone call from the office of Mr Hamilton James, the executive who had orchestrated the sale, Mr Dias said.

    Mr James was starting a new role as the No. 2 at big investment firm Blackstone Group, and he wanted Mr Dias to join him.

    However, Mr Dias - now a 10-year stalwart at Blackstone - is no banker with a briefcase.

    He carries a shoeshine box.

    Inside New York's investment houses, a vestige of old Wall Street lives on. Gone are the days when offices were filled with smoke and the only women in sight were secretaries. But the in-house shoeshine service has proved remarkably resilient, surviving the rise of technology and even the turmoil of the 2008 financial crisis, which snuffed out many of Wall Street's quirks.

    The 52-year-old Dias is at the top of the heap in the shoeshine world. He charges US$6 (S$7) for a shine in Blackstone's offices, not counting the tip, while the Dr Shine shoeshine parlour in the building's lobby charges US$3.

    Though they are not bank employees, Wall Street's shoeshine workers are privy to the hidden dramas of trading floors and executive suites.

    At JPMorgan Chase, for example, a shoeshine worker said that Mr Jamie Dimon, the bank's powerful chief executive - who favours Ferragamo loafers - typically offers US$10 for a shoeshine, "the same amount the guys on the trading floor pay".

    But the modern shoeshine business has changed since the old days, reflecting the evolution of Wall Street firms from private partnerships to large, public corporations.

    Senior traders from Bear Stearns recall the days when they could put their feet up on a shoeshine box brought to their desks and banter with their colleagues as the deed was done. But that changed after JPMorgan took over the firm in 2008.

    At JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, teams of workers now collect shoes and take them elsewhere to be shined, leaving traders to work in stockinged feet.

    Traditionally, the relationships between shoeshine workers and their firms have been supported by custom - and amenable security guards - rather than official edict. But one of the first firms to formalise the arrangement was Goldman Sachs.

    In the 1990s, when Mr Jon Corzine was the CEO of Goldman, employees on the fixed-income floor asked him to allow shoeshine workers to come to the office on a regular basis, a source said.

    Mr Corzine approved the request.

    Today, a handful of uniformed contract workers - known internally as "shoeshine technicians" - patrol Goldman's headquarters, with a daily routine that reflects a corporate sense of efficiency. They handle trading floors in sections, whisking away shoes to be shined and leaving traders to work in socks.

    One shoeshine parlour in New York, Eddie's Shoe Repair, aims to capitalise on this shift by offering a classic experience that has become increasingly rare inside banks.

    Employees of firms like Barclays, Morgan Stanley and Bank of America Merrill Lynch trek to the shop in Rockefeller Center for a 15-minute shoeshine and the opportunity to banter with the owner, Mr Hugo Ardaix, who said the banks' own shoeshine workers skimp on quality.

    One senior employee of a big bank, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said: "It's like a lot of things on Wall Street: It's not as personal as it used to be.

    "In the past, the trading floors were smaller, the firms were smaller and the service providers were people you saw pretty much every day. You got to know them."