Media Spotlight: Straight to Hell – True Tales of Deviance, Debauchery and Billion-Dollar Deals, by John LeFevre

Spotlight

In 2011, a mysterious new handle appeared in the Twittersphere – @GSElevator – and began spurting hilarious tales of pomposity and superiority under the guise of a particularly brash Goldman Sachs employee. 

Thousands of users soon followed and tweets such as “Got asked what I’d do if I had $10m. Said I’d ask where the rest of my money went” gave them a peek inside the walls of investment banking’s most notoriously private giant. 

Or so it seemed. When the man behind @GSElevator – John LeFevre – was tapped up by publishers eager to capitalise on the Twitter handle’s new-found cult status, a multimillion-dollar deal was quickly agreed and a book entered the pipeline. Only later did the lucky publisher discover that LeFevre had never been employed at Goldman Sachs – nor even worked in New York City. The deal was soon off. 

However, a different publisher believed that LeFevre was a risk worth taking and that his genuine account of being shifted to various international outposts by his true employer, Citibank, would produce enough anecdotes to make a good book. 

Sadly, however, that has not proved the case. Straight to Hell: True Tales of Deviance, Debauchery and Billion-Dollar Deals is a title that promises much but delivers next to nothing. 

For a book based on the escapades and misdemeanours of the investment banking industry to be so disappointingly short on entertainment is some achievement in itself.

 In the wake of the financial crisis, one has only had to turn on the news to learn of some new brazen act by a wealthy white-collar worker. Yet here we have a former member of that club deliberately striving to impress and amuse with his own tales and what readers are presented with is almost a plea for credibility.

Given the plethora of existing publications about Wall Street’s seedier side, this book strikes one almost as an attempt by LeFevre to include himself among the elite playboys of investment banking. He most certainly was not. 

The book is filled with the kind of stories that make most of us cringe, not aspire to emulate. 

In Michael Lewis’s seminal Liar’s Poker (previously reviewed in this column), there are tales of $1m poker hands and a helicopter carrying a group of drunken 23-year-olds to a casino in New Jersey where one of them gambled $500,000 and walked off with $3.2m. 

LeFevre’s stories are more akin to an Asbo-holder running into a restaurant, ordering a fictitious dish based around a particular male body part, laughing at the waiter and running out again. In fact, that is one of the tales in this book. 

Sadly, the author is unaware that many of the antics he recalls from his time in Singapore and Malaysia are offensive. At times, he portrays himself and his ex-colleagues as racist bullies. 

When the @GSElevator handle appeared on Twitter, LeFevre had a golden formula. Serving up witty remarks that matched the public’s perception of investment bankers, the author could enjoy his anonymity and pass them off as his own thoughts. 

Having been rumbled and paid to share his real memories of the world he seemingly still wishes to be part of, LeFevre has produced a disappointing and potentially embarrassing account. 

If he was not taken seriously by his peers before, he certainly won’t be now.