Many terrifying forces converge in the financial drama “Industry”: screaming bosses, bad market bets, and unrelenting pressures. But perhaps scariest of all, at least to their superiors, are the fighters in their twenties ready to unseat their elders.
Generational tensions run high between the old guard and the hungry young in the second season of the HBO show which begins Monday. The series about junior bankers in the fictional London company. Pierpoint & Co. channels this unease into the character of Eric Tao, played by Ken Leung. In the waters of the parquet, the 50-year-old managing director of cross-product sales it is both shark and shark bait.
“Youth terrifies him,” says one up-and-comer, “unless he can control it.”
What makes the show even more sobering is knowing that its characters and stories are drawn from real life, with creators Mickey Down and Konrad Kay incorporating the headlines, their own brief financial careers, and interviews with financial executives into the scripts. The initial inspiration for Eric came from a person once in their banking orbit: a finance executive who they said is still unaware of the connection to the show.
The world is coming out of Covid at the show. At Pierpoint, bosses have no patience for subordinates who want to continue working remotely. The drama revolves around the actions of memes, the real-world exchanges that gained a large following on social media. Eric’s white-tablecloth business breakfasts and club investor weekends don’t fit in a disruptive landscape made up of brazen newcomers, including a billionaire profiting from the pandemic.
The new season begs a question: If experience isn’t always useful and the value of seniority is no longer a given, what’s the point of an Eric?
“It’s a game for very young people,” said Mr. Down, 33, formerly of Rothschild & Co..
, repeating what industry experts told him about their experiences in finance. “It’s a place where youth and drive and that first glimmer of ambition are really rewarded.”
The show finds Eric fighting for his job against three rivals, all of whom he hired. That includes his protégée at the next desk, Harper Stern, played by Myha’la Herrold.
The writers looked for generational tensions and found them around topics like wealth. A cut line from an opening 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 says it clearly. It’s what some in finance call a “lock the bag” mentality, or an outspokenness about the pursuit of wealth and success.
“The really big hedge fund managers we talked to said millennial recruits were afraid to say, ‘I want to make money,’ it was considered a little flashy, a little off-putting to have that mindset,” said Mr. Down, referring to conversations he and the team had with executives while researching the show. “Generation Z recruits now have no qualms about saying they want to be successful. They say: ‘I want to get money’”.
The world of finance has moved over the decades toward greater diversity and inclusion, and the show’s cast reflects that. But the series also argues that, in essence, the industry will never change.
“It’s not unreasonable to think that in a structure so proud of its hierarchy, there wouldn’t be the most Darwinian relationship possible with power,” said Kay, 34, a former Morgan Stanley insider..
“Of course they’re going to fall back on their most basic animal instincts: ‘How do I get power? Who hides it from me? How do I keep it myself?’”
As the story picks up, Eric’s charges are making money, but he isn’t. As his boss, Eric argues that the team’s successes are hers as well. But they tell him it’s only as good as his last deal.
“On the show he talks about, ‘Think of all I’ve accomplished,’ and his boss says, ‘None of that matters, what matters is what you did this week,'” said Mr. Leung, 52. . “So he has to find new muscles to exercise. It is a season of “finding yourself again”.
At one point, Eric is “promoted” to a corner office that he compares to a coffin.
“It tells you something about how youth-obsessed the culture is that we’re talking about a 50-year-old man like he’s a dinosaur,” said Jami O’Brien, 48, a writer and executive producer on 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 on his desk, but fights for raises from his team. A creature of parquet, he trims his toenails in a trash can as if he were in his own bathroom.
“A lot of my friends 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, Mr. Leung briefly worked as a Wall Street temp, feeding financial documents into microfiche machines. He was struck by the noise and heat behind the cold exteriors of the Financial District buildings.
A key resource for the actor: his son’s elementary school carpool. A father who works in finance held morning meetings with his team over the phone while driving the car. Excuse me, Mr. Leung listened from the passenger seat. “He just gave me an organic idea of the texture of this world,” he said.
Mr. Leung, a native New Yorker of Chinese descent, played Miles Straume, a volatile medium on the ABC 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 dealing with his priorities in the world of going back to the office.
“He was motivated to win and be good at his job,” Ms. O’Brien said. “The pandemic has made him wonder, ‘Was that reason enough?’ He is having a bit of an existential crisis at the age of 50.”
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