August 21, 2013

What Wall Street Can Learn From Silicon Valley

The death of a young intern at BoFA brings work and health habits into sharp focus

It might be the title for the longest book ever written.

With the horrific news of the death of Moritz Erhardt, a 21-year-old investment-banking intern with Bank of America Merrill Lynch in London, on Aug. 15, might it prompt a soul-searching culture change in how wirehouses conduct business? Specifically, will caffeine and nicotine-induced marathon work sessions become a thing of the past? Doubtful — but if Wall Streeters want an idea of why certain sectors, and firms, are known for their youth, energy and vigor, they need look no further than Palo Alto.

Famous for their foosball tables, 7-Eleven style freebie snacks, catered meals and Zen-influenced corporate retreats in the late 1990s, Silicon Valley startups are back with their perks.

CNBC reported on some of the more outlandish on Monday, topping anything seen in decades past. Some examples:

  • The video monitoring hardware and software company Dropcam offers each employee (plus guest) a free helicopter ride—piloted by the company CEO Greg Duffy—to the destination of their choice.
  • OpenDNS, an enterprise network security company, takes all of its employees, as well as their families, on a paid trip to Tahoe each year where they stay at the Ritz Carlton.
  • Weebly, a website creation tool, gives each employee a monthly credit of $50 to Exec, which provides an on-demand errand service.

“Providing employees with free food, as well as alcohol, is probably the most popular perk among startups in the Valley,” the network notes. “OpenDNS, for example, brought in a vintage bar that it keeps full of booze.”

Of course it all comes with a catch. While it fits with the Valley’s hip image, Silicon startups feel happy workers are more productive workers, meaning they’ll work longer hours (sans the caffeine, nicotine and stress).

"The goal with anything perks-wise is about making life easier," David Ulevitch, founder and CEO of OpenDNS, told CNBC. "Work is stressful; you literally spend the majority of your life at work, so we want to create things that make their lives easier."

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