Time is getting shorter for the young and ambitious

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Because some quick research showed that more than 90% of the class wanted to become investment bankers, the subject matter essentially chose itself. They all looked terribly young and they didn't seem very happy. Perhaps someone had told them that being an investment banker was similar to being sentenced to life at the oars of a Roman galley. Worse still, a fair number of these young hopefuls, with all to live for, wouldn't make it through the increasingly rigorous interviewing process.

So I began. There is always good advice to give about which investment banks to join and which to avoid like the plague. However, this is best kept to the end. To inspire a young audience you have to be super-optimistic. 'The world is your oyster' type of encouragement always raises spirits, as does 'have you already thought what you are going to do with all that lovely money?' Never mention the 16-hour working days six days a week in case one of their parents is a trade union leader. Make sure you are not fired first if the business turns down. These bright young things have probably never heard of a recession or a bear market.

I decided to change tack slightly and to talk about money and then the truncated time expectations in which to maximise your career earnings. You are always on a safe wicket with money, which has become an obsession in the investment banking business. These days you know what your colleagues earn and what your counterparts at other firms are paid. They have probably also clocked your bonus long before you are given the news.

The 'career expectation' factor reflects my view that working careers are perceived very differently by the current generation and anticipated career spans have shortened significantly. The Euromarkets and international investment banking 'jobs for life' has been replaced with 'jobs for 20 years' or preferably 15 if you are really successful.

For an example, I took the liberty of using Jeremy Isaacs, the chief executive of Lehman Brothers International in Europe. I have met Jeremy on a number of occasions. He is great fun and very intelligent. When looking for a case study in youth, combined with personal financial success, he is tailor-made. He is only 36 and last year earned more than $20m (€22m) in cash and stock options. He sits on the main executive committees of Lehman in New York. Just to add icing on the cake, he is happily married and appears to enjoy every minute of his job: working 16 hours a day six days a week probably becomes more agreeable when you are earning $20m a year.

I could feel my audience warming to Mr Isaacs' financial achievements and I had lots of ammunition in reserve about investment bankers and traders who had made much more than $20m.

But Isaacs was my perfect choice because of his age. My message to the students was that not only was their time short but that it was likely to become even shorter. I asked how many of them had taken gap years. Around half held up their hands. 'Total waste of time,' I retorted, feeling rather like Michael Douglas playing Gordon Gekko when he said 'only wimps eat lunch'.

I began to explain my reasoning. When I came to the City in my early 20s the expected retirement age was between 55 and 60. Partners in the old stockbroking houses and investment banks didn't especially want to retire early because they didn't have to work very hard and they were making a very comfortable living.

The result was that the young generation of that era didn't feel the need to hurry. Without wonderful family connections your chances of being made a partner before the age of 30 was minimal. Time was on our hands and we enjoyed ourselves to the full.

But how the financial world has changed. I expected to work for between 30 and 35 years.

Today's generation of investment bankers and traders confidently expect to make their pile in 20 years or preferably less. What I had achieved at 40 should now be a target at 30 - Isaacs would probably say 26.

Yes, it sounds slightly intimidating but it is the current state of the real world out there.

That world may be the students' oyster but I told them any time-wasting was career negative and, worse of all, could prove to be expensive.

I didn't quite say 'Gap years were for wimps' and 'Who needs vacations when we already have so many Bank Holidays?' But I did say that it was fine to go out partying, but carouse with your team colleagues at work and before you get totally trolleyed, work out how to nail the opposition to the floor the next morning.

In the question and answers period, which proved to be remarkably lively and didn't break up until almost midnight, one bright student asked me: 'I have been told that I should be earning at least 1m by the time I am 30. Is that correct?'.

I immediately snapped back: 'Your information is incorrect, it should be 2m.' When I left the university, not a bread roll or tomato had been thrown, but I was surprised that there were not protesters outside with their 'abolish capitalism' banners.

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