Midnight Madness, revisited

Midnight Madness, revisited

Elisha Wiesel, the son of Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel, is replacing Marty Chavez as Chief Information Officer at Goldman Sachs.

It’s an interesting bit of Goldman kremlinology given his history at J Aron. It’s also an excuse to revisit some of my old work on Midnight Madness – the epic all-night Wall Street scavenger hunt/first-person puzzle/charity fundraiser that Wiesel is credited with inventing and which I wrote about for the Financial Times.

So here’s a fun throwback to 2013, when Midnight Madness was first expanded to include non-Goldman firms:

Wall St lines up for ‘Midnight Madness’

Some time next week Dan Keegan, Citigroup’s head of US equities, will be asked to sing a ballad over the speakers on the bank’s New York trading floors.

The unusual request is part of Citi’s efforts to raise at least $250,000 to enter five teams into a fundraising competition known as “Midnight Madness”.

Traditionally the purview of Goldman Sachs bankers, this year the all-night competition has expanded to include other financial groups. Goldman will now compete in the lavish scavenger hunt and puzzle-solving game against Citi, Credit Suisse, the hedge fund BlueMountain and Secor Asset Management.

The competition takes place on October 5 and has already kicked off a flurry of activity across a competitive Wall Street. The prospect of earning bragging rights in a battle of wits against rivals while raising money for charity is set to lure about 250 traders, quantitative analysts and bankers to this year’s event.

“This type of mental Olympics, combined with adventure, is something that I think might have a broad appeal on Wall Street, and when it’s all for a good cause it’s an attractive combination,” said Michael Liberman, managing partner at BlueMountain.

Goldman has asked participants to stump up at least $50,000 per team. Proceeds go to Good Shepherd Services, a New York City-based charity which offers education and support services for poor or at-risk children and teenagers.

A pamphlet used to pitch Midnight Madness to potential participants describes the games as “a series of cleverly camouflaged, incredibly ingenious and devilishly difficult puzzles – the answers to which indicate the location of the next puzzle . . .”

Last year’s competition saw teams play with lasers in an abandoned building, use circuit boards to reveal locations on a map, and work to change the colour of the lights at the top of a New York skyscraper.

The geekiness of the Manhattan-based event has earned it a reputation for attracting the cadre of “quant” maths experts who have increasingly come to dominate Wall Street institutions and their trading strategies.

This year’s event will include 25 teams of 10 people each, organisers said. Goldman is fielding 16 teams, down from the 20 it sent last year.

From next week, Citi will hold a series of silent auctions and challenge senior staff to “dares” in order to raise the $250,000 in funds it needs to compete. One executive plans to pay $5,000 to challenge Mr Keegan to croon “Danny Boy”.

Citi staff can also pay $20 to wear jeans (usually a no-no on the trading floor), proffer cash to throw pies at their superiors, or enter a hot dog-eating competition. The bank chose team members in a random draw after receiving more than 100 volunteers.

At Credit Suisse, convincing staff to participate in the elaborate competition was relatively more challenging. “It had this reputation of an event that’s very complicated and extreme,” said Dan Miller, head of strategic risk management for the investment bank.

The bank is entering one team into the event and raising cash the old-fashioned way – through solicitation. Division heads were asked to pay $5,000 each to nominate one of their brightest underlings to the Swiss bank’s team.

The Credit Suisse team has also been given a $3,000 budget to buy supplies such as cellphone chargers and copious amounts of Red Bull, the energy drink.

Elisha Wiesel, a partner at Goldman and a member of Good Shepherd’s board, said it is not unknown for contestants to fall asleep on the sidewalk while competing in Midnight Madness, which was started in the 1990s but went on hiatus in 2007 until it was revived last year by Mr Wiesel and other organisers.

“This is really like a marathon. It’s a sporting event,” Mr Wiesel said. “You have to survive a very, very challenging evening, morning and potentially afternoon.”

Last year’s “Madness” raised $1.4m, after about $270,000 of expenses. This year’s budget is “going up a little bit” because the event is “aiming to be more ambitious and make more money for the charity,” Mr Wiesel said.

The hefty budget for last year’s event drew some scepticism, including from Reuters columnist Felix Salmon, who wrote that “at some point you do have to wonder whether they really needed to spend that much money on the game design”.

When asked whether the competition could become an annual Wall Street event, Mr Wiesel said that it would depend on organisers’ ability to commit their time.

But he added: “This is just too cool and too fun not to do.”

Those looking to get on the new CIO’s good side can go here, to an old FT Alphaville post, to try out some Midnight Madness puzzles and practice lateral thinking for themselves.

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