Confessions from the City: The HSBC insider

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So far so obvious, but the compass has changed radically in the last couple of weeks. No longer showing North, East, South, West, the building’s metaphorical compass now displays East, Stay Put, Birmingham or Oblivion.

Perspective and altitude is key. Walking on the hallowed, and largely silent, plush beige carpets of the executive eyrie 42 storeys high, the compass points East and the view is always of Hong Kong, whichever window you’re looking out of.

It’s more confusing the further down you travel though. In the mid-floors housing key functions — UK head office, compliance, risk, accountants, lawyers, marketing and the like — the compass is spinning everywhere and everyone’s worries are writ large.

One way points to Birmingham. “Could be worse,” they think. “The curry’s good.” Wait a sec, now it points to staying put. Phew! Then, oblivion. “Shit — am I one of the one in eight getting the boot?” East? “In my dreams.”

And so the internal worrying goes on, spinning in perspective, feeding on uncertainty and confusion all the way down the building to behind the façades of the black marble reception and still further.

But it’s always been dark and a bit leaky down in the basement boiler rooms, delivery bays and car parks, and no one ever worried about that before.

Working in the HSBC tower reminds me in many ways of a high-rise seabird colony. The  alpha avians up on the clifftops  get the best turf and the best  views but it becomes steadily messier for those who are living further down.

Still, the traders down on the first and second floors couldn’t have seen this one coming — HSBC’s chief executive, Stuart Gulliver, was one of their own after all.

Perhaps the place is in need of a clean-up anyway, so moving out may make sense.

The bank moved here in 2002 and 13 years of wear by the thousands of hard-working souls in one of Europe’s largest single-occupancy buildings have certainly taken their toll.

The building’s lifts are more crowded than the Jubilee line platform in rush hour and the walls and carpets of the middle floors — and indeed the people — are looking very grey and scuffed these days.

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June 27, 2015 |
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