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Dealmakers catch Fomo fever

For the first few months of lockdown, bankers around the world were singing a similar tune. 

It went something like: “Lockdown is great! I’ve spent the most time with my family in years and my clients don’t mind the Zoom calls. This definitely beats the long-haul flights and jet lag from overseas trips.”

For the senior executives calling shots poolside from their Sag Harbor beach bunkers or English countryside hideaways, spirits were high. 

But six months later, that Jomo (Joy of missing out) has turned to Fomo (fear of missing out).

“What I wouldn’t give for a business trip,” our cabin fever-ridden sources lament.

When DD asks where to, the answer usually comes back: “Anywhere.”

Bankers and lawyers in lockdown are eager to escape their Groundhog Day-esque existences and return to a gilded life of travelling business class, staying in five-star hotels and schmoozing corporate executives. 

That desire is compounded by worries over missed opportunities and the knowledge that some of their rivals are able to seal face-to-face deals in countries less affected by travel restrictions. 

“The agreement to mutually disarm on travel was enforced by the government so it was extremely comfortable for everybody to stay home,” said Ken Moelis (pictured below), founder of the eponymous boutique investment bank, told DD’s James Fontanella-Khan and the FT’s Laura Noonan. “No competitor had a weapon of personal contact to upstage you.”

The fact that dealmaking hasn’t let up during lockdown doesn’t help. The past few months were marked by an M&A resurgence.

Dealmaking has clearly developed the antibodies necessary to survive the pandemic. But some fear a drawn-out digital M&A landscape will inhibit the formation of new relationships.

“The biggest challenge has been developing a rapport and trust with new clients — that’s been really hard,” Javier Oficialdegui, co-head of global banking at UBS told the FT. “That’s why most bankers have been focusing on existing relationships.”

For bankers, scanning the FT each morning must hold the same envy-inducing effect as an elongated scroll through social media — from the irresistible drama unfolding at TikTok to Tiffany’s tumultuous engagement with LVMH, there’s just so much to miss out on.

Canary Wharf execs play quarantine hookey 

Bosses are meant to lead by example. So it’s understandable that Shobi Khan (pictured below), chief executive of Canary Wharf Group, was keen to get back to work. After all, the future of the east London financial district he runs hinges on workers flocking back to its office towers.

But Khan seems to have been overzealous in promoting the return to the office. He made a trip to the US in early September and was back at work in Canary Wharf only a few days after arriving home in England, a clear breach of the government’s quarantine rules — and of his company’s own policy. 

Howard Dawber, the group’s managing director of strategy, also returned to work shortly after a trip to Spain last month.

When reached by the FT, CWG apologised “for any breaches of the guidance”, and said it was “working hard to ensure the highest standards”, adding that as a resident of Spain who technically commutes to Canary Wharf, Dawber (pictured below) is exempt from such quarantine measures as long as he makes the journey at least once a week.

But a number of employees at the company told the FT that the executives’ error of judgment was part of a pattern: having talked a good game on how safe offices could be, CWG is flouting the same standards it expects others to uphold.

Staff said they felt compelled to return to the office, even as coronavirus cases have risen, and that concerns about Khan’s failure to self-isolate fell on deaf ears. 

The boss has certainly set an example, but it doesn’t look like the one that was intended.

Century 21: waving goodbye to a New York institution

Neiman Marcus’s recent bankruptcy saga ended in fraud charges against the hedge fund manager at the centre of its restructuring. The insolvency of the famed Manhattan department store Barneys culminated in a courtroom drama for the ages.

The shuttering of New York’s beloved high-fashion discounter Century 21 was decidedly less melodramatic, albeit a few scraps over the last remaining Chanel tweed jacket or Saint Laurent pumps on its barren racks as “Everything must go” signs loomed overhead.

The chain’s downtown flagship was “the best part of jury duty” as put by Sarah Jessica Parker’s character Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City (pictured above). 

But like many elements of the iconic HBO television series (smoking indoors and certain plot lines which led critics to label it the “death of feminism”), Century 21 didn’t age all that well.

The department store chain, which filed for bankruptcy earlier this month, failed to hit back at off-price ecommerce challengers such as Gilt Groupe and Rue La La. Then the coronavirus crisis delivered it a swift and final blow.

Nevertheless, the store remains a cherished institution in the hearts of many New Yorkers, including DD’s own Eric Platt. Join him for a bargain-hunting trip down memory lane.

Job moves

  • Formula One Group chief Chase Carey is set to be replaced by Lamborghini CEO and former Ferrari boss Stefano Domenicali, a move orchestrated by the racing series’ US owners. More here.

  • Relx Group named Paul Walker as its next chairman, succeeding Sir Anthony Habgood following his retirement in July next year. Walker, who is stepping down as chair of Halma, is also chair of Ashtead Group.

  • The UK regulatory advisory firm Fingleton has hired two new directors: Dermot Nolan, former chief of Ofgem, and Simon Oates, who has held executive director positions at Royal Mail and Southern Water.

  • Nepean has appointed Martin Glenn to the UK communications and advisory firm’s board as a non-executive adviser. He was previously chief executive of the Football Association.

  • Alantra has hired César Ciriza to lead its new energy and infrastructure division as a managing partner. He spent seven years at Evercore before launching his own investment boutique last year.

Smart reads

Wirecard latest The German payments group’s web of lies spun further than its fraudulent Asian business, building its reputation as a tech pioneer on a foundation of archaic infrastructure and hiding losses across the majority of its operations. (FT)

Unplugging Nikola Who is Nathan Anderson, the short seller-whistleblower behind Hindenburg Research, which sent Nikola’s shares plunging and sparked its founder’s departure? He draws inspiration from the investigator who tried to dismantle Bernie Madoff’s infamous Ponzi scheme. (Wall Street Journal

One nation, under LVMH Billionaire Bernard Arnault has effectively staged a coup d'état within the French government, as political leaders play into his cashmere-gloved hands in his attempt to decouple from Tiffany. (FT)

News round-up

JPMorgan in talks to settle spoofing claims for $1bn (FT)

United Wholesale Mortgage to go public in largest Spac deal to date (FT + Lex

China’s state media denounce TikTok deal as ‘dirty and unfair’ (FT) 

TikTok requests injunction against US app store ban (FT)

Investor buzz builds ahead of Ant Group listing (FT)

Qatar fund signals support for challenge at Lagardère (FT) 

Tesla outlines ambition to halve cost of batteries (FT)

Hyperion to buy A-Plan as consolidation of insurance brokers hots up (FT)

Atlantia/Autostrade: a fork in the road (Lex) 

KKR to buy online contact lens retailer 1-800 Contacts (Reuters)

Brookfield says ‘time is now’ to sell some of its malls (FT) 

Due Diligence is written by Arash Massoudi, Kaye Wiggins and Robert Smith in London, Javier Espinoza in Brussels, James Fontanella-Khan, Ortenca Aliaj, Sujeet Indap, Eric Platt, Mark Vandevelde and Francesca Friday in New York and Miles Kruppa in San Francisco. Please send feedback to due.diligence@ft.com

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