HBO’s ‘Industry’ Season 2 Has a Message for Bosses: Beware Junior Bankers

Many frightening forces converge in the financial drama “Industry”: screaming bosses, bad market bets, and relentless pressure. But perhaps scariest of all, at least for their superiors, are the militants in their twenties ready to overthrow their elders.

Generational tensions run high between the old guard and the hungry young in the HBO show’s second season starting Monday. The London Fictional Company Junior Bankers Series Pierpoint & Co. channels this unease into the character of Eric Tao, played by Ken Leung. In the waters of the trading room, the 50-year-old general manager of cross-product sales is both shark and shark bait.

“Youth terrifies him,” said a young man, “unless he can control it.”

What makes the series even more disappointing is knowing that its characters and plots are drawn from real life, with creators Mickey Down and Konrad Kay incorporating the titles, their own short careers in finance, and interviews with financial frameworks in scripts. Eric’s initial inspiration came from someone once in their banking orbit – a finance executive who they believe is still unaware of the show connection.

The world emerges from Covid in the show. At Pierpoint, bosses have no patience for subordinates who want to continue working remotely. The drama revolves around meme actions, the real-world crafts that have gained huge followings on social media. Eric’s white-tablecloth business breakfasts and clubby investor weekends don’t fit into a disruptive landscape shaped by brash newcomers, including a billionaire cashing in on the pandemic.

The new season poses a question: if experience is not always useful and the value of seniority is no longer acquired, what is the use of an Eric?

Actor Ken Leung, who plays senior banker Eric Tao, said friends who work in finance say his character gives them PTSD.


Photo:

Simon Ridgway/HBO

“It’s a very young game,” said Mr Down, 33, formerly of

Rothschild & Cie.

, repeating what industry insiders have told him about their experiences in finance. “It’s a place where youth and drive and that first flash of ambition really pays off.”

The show finds Eric fighting for his job against three rivals, all of whom he has hired. This includes his protege in the next office, Harper Stern, played by Myha’la Herrold.

Writers have looked for generational tensions and found them around topics like wealth. A line cut from an early script caused Harper to break what Mr. Down calls the cardinal rule of the finance job interview: Don’t say you want to make money. Harper makes it clear. It’s what some in finance call a “secure the bag” mentality, or a direct approach to the pursuit of wealth and success.

“The really big hedge fund managers we spoke to said millennial recruits were skittish about saying ‘I want to make money’, it was seen as a bit garish, a bit mean to have that mentality,” Down said, referencing conversations he and the team had with executives while researching the show. “Gen Z recruits now have no qualms about saying they want to succeed. They say, ‘I want to make money.’

The world of finance has evolved over the decades towards greater diversity and inclusion, and the show’s cast reflects that. But the series also argues that at its core, the industry will never change.

“It is not illogical to think that in a structure so proud of its hierarchy, there would not be the most Darwinian relationship to power possible,” said Mr. Kay, 34, a former

Morgan Stanley.

“Of course, they’re going to turn to their most basic animal instincts: ‘How can I get power? Who’s hiding it from me? How can I keep it to myself?

As the story picks up, Eric’s charges make money, but he doesn’t. As boss, Eric maintains that the team’s successes are also his. But he is told he is only as good as his last contract.

“On the show he’s talking about, ‘Think about all the things I’ve accomplished,’ and his boss is like, ‘None of that matters, what matters is what you got. done this week,'” Mr Leung, 52, said. he has to look for new muscles to exercise. It is a season to “find yourself”.

At one point, Eric is “promoted” to an office corner which he compares to a coffin.

“It tells you how obsessed the culture is with young people that we talk about a 50-year-old man like he’s a dinosaur,” said Jami O’Brien, 48, writer and executive producer of the series. .

Eric is both the voice of the establishment and, as an Asian man in a historically white world, an outsider. He struts around with a baseball bat at his desk but fights for his team’s raises. A creature of the trading floor, he cuts his nails in a wastebasket as if he were in his own bathroom.

“A lot of my friends who work in finance say it gives them PTSD,” Mr Leung said. “And then there are other people who say, ‘I would have died to have a boss like you. “”

Before college, Leung worked briefly as a temp on Wall Street feeding financial documents into microfiche machines. He was struck by the noise and heat behind the cold exteriors of buildings in the Financial District.

A key resource for the actor: carpooling to his son’s primary school. A parent who works in finance held morning meetings with his team by phone while driving the car. With her permission, Mr. Leung listened from the passenger seat. “It just gave me an organic sense of the texture of this world,” he said.

Mr. Leung, a Chinese-born New Yorker, played Miles Straume, an unstable psychic in ABC’s television drama “Lost.” His film credits include roles in Brett Ratner’s “Rush Hour”, Spike Lee’s “Sucker Free City” and M. Night Shyamalan’s “Old”.

The actor shows Eric struggling with his priorities in the world of returning to the office.

“He was driven by winning and being good at his job,” Ms O’Brien said. “The pandemic made him wonder, ‘Was that enough of a reason?’ He has a small existential crisis at the age of 50.

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