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Standing next to the queen of shoes

24 October 2013

Every now and again I agree to do something slightly out of the ordinary, put it in my diary far, far in the future, and forget all about it. Then, suddenly, the date is looming and I start to panic.

Six months I ago, I agreed to host a lunch for Tamara Mellon, the co-founder of Jimmy Choo whose memoir, In My Shoes , has just been published. I don’t give lunches that often but I figured, not unreasonably, that shoes were definitely going to be of interest to my Girlfriends and my female clients.

Two weeks before the lunch, I realised I had not actually invited anyone. I also examined the potential cost, and decided that everyone really should be paying for their own lunch, so I made that very clear when I sent out the invitations. Did that put people off? Not a bit of it. We were so oversubscribed it made the Royal Mail IPO look almost unpopular. Never underestimate the interest women have in shoes.

Based on my pricing of the lunch, though, I wouldn’t get a job in an equity capital markets (ECM) team. I had failed to take into account several of the costs, including flowers (important at any lunch that involves mainly women) and the cost of the books that I left on everyone’s chair (why had I thought that the publisher might give these for free?).

Pricing was not, however, my biggest challenge. I also planned to interview Tamara for half an hour or so and then to field questions. As I came to think about this particular element – and, yes, I am ashamed to say that this was only the day before the actual event – I became really quite worried. I was not concerned about what questions I would ask; after all, I had read her book twice and knew that it was about earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation rather than mere shoes. Rather, I had three areas of concern, none of which had anything to do with the book.

The first is that I realised I would have to start with a confession. I have never, ever, bought a pair of Jimmy Choos. This is in sharp contrast to my Hedge Fund Girlfriend, who wrote to say how sad she was not to be able to attend and thus meet the woman whom she had provided with so much working capital.

The second area of concern was that of standing next to Tamara Mellon for half an hour, in front of 40 fashion-conscious women. Tamara wore a cream trouser suit and translucent silk blouse from her new label; I wore a black dress that covered a multitude of sins, and needed a multitude of fabric to do so. (I think I can safely predict that nothing in the new Tamara Mellon range is going to fit me.)

My third concern was fearing that I might be too in awe to speak. After all, this is a woman who after being sacked by Vogue started a company that she served valiantly for 15 years until it changed hands for £500m. (As I said, never underestimate women’s interest in shoes.) The Economist’s review of her book called her an alchemist, and I think that is a well-chosen description.

In the end the interview was fine, and I stayed off the contentious subjects of her mother and her marriage, both of which are covered extensively in the book. The real challenge came where I least expected it, with the guests’ Q & A. Again, I would make a terrible ECM hire.

The trick with new equity issues is to make sure that you only solicit interest from people who are going to behave well, back the management and are not going to sell immediately in the after-market and so forth. Good ECM departments are fully in command of the allocation process.

I, on the other hand, faced merely with a room full of people fascinated by shoes, actually managed to lose control of the Q & A airtime allocation. Tamara remained cool and collected, unlike me, and after everyone had left and I sat down for a rest, was very kind to me about it. Why was I ever scared of her?

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