Finance

Michael P. Regan is a Bloomberg Gadfly columnist covering equities and financial services. He has covered stocks for Bloomberg News as a columnist and editor since 2007. He previously worked for the Associated Press.

Even the Harvard Business Review, it seems, can't resist a good listicle these days. So last year they gave us one exploring "4 Reasons to Kill the Office Holiday Party -- and One Reason to Save It." 

One reason to kill off the tradition was that the downside risks may be greater than the benefits. Take it away HBR:  

 When the Society for Human Resources surveyed HR leaders about the office holiday party, it heard about a range of concerns, especially since alcohol is usually part of the scene. Six percent of HR execs, in fact, said they were aware of unwanted sexual advances having taken place at holiday parties. 

The main conclusion from that survey is probably either that a) 94 percent of HR execs are pretty clueless or b) 94 percent of HR execs weren't invited to their own company's holiday party.  Anyway, the other three reasons to kill holiday parties were something like blah blah blah, yada yada yada. Whatever. We here in the financial press recommend that you ignore all of them and continue to allow your employees to get their freak on, especially the employees with active Instagram and YouTube accounts. It doesn't really matter anyway because, judging from recent news items, the tradition is alive and well. In fact, according to a Google Trends tally of searches for "holiday party," the yearly bacchanalias have fully recovered from the recession.

Party On
Holiday parties made a big comeback this year, if Google searches are any indication.
Source: Google Trends



So clearly the "One Reason to Save It" is what's important and, according to HBR, it's this: "Parties are signals.... They say something about the state of the business."

So here's a look at what "signals" some prominent office holiday parties have sent this year. 

To hedge fund SpringOwl, Yahoo's opulent 1920s-themed bash signals that CEO Marissa Mayer should be canned. According to Business Insider, the bash included a vintage Rolls Royce and a magician as well as "swinging flapper aerialists pouring champagne towers and Gatsby-esque costumed actors walking around like vintage cigarette girls (but peddling only candy)." Mayer herself was in a sequinned dress on a white armchair. That sounds like a good party! And who knows, maybe Yahoo was just giving the magician a shot at redemption after he failed to get the tax bill from the Alibaba spinoff to disappear. Still, all the allusions to "The Great Gatsby" and the Jazz Age are troubling, considering how that book and that era ended.  As Fitzgerald wrote: "The loneliest moment in someone's life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart and all they can do is stare blankly." For Mayer's sake, here's hoping next year's Yahoo shindig will be an '80s party or something. 

Everyone's favorite scamp of the pharmaceutical world, Martin Shkreli, sent a clear signal with his holiday party for Turing Pharmaceuticals: He's capable of being annoying even when throwing an epic rager. Shkreli hired rap star Fetty Wap to perform for employees. As he told Bloomberg:  “Typically you would say, ‘As an average fan, I can’t get Fetty Wap to give me a personal concert.' The reality is, sure you could. You know, at the right price these guys basically will do anything.” Sadly for Shkreli, if the government is successful in its securities fraud case against him, he'll be lucky if he's not eating balogna soup at next year's holiday party. He certainly won't be back at Turing. 

Of course, nowhere are signals more important than in the financial world. And this year hedge funds, in particular, faced a conundrum. As Reuters put it: "Managers faced a tricky question this holiday season: how to thank employees but not offend disappointed clients." From their account, we learn that David Einhorn whisked Greenlight Capital employees away to the Naples Grande Beach Resort and John Paulson’s workers still got to party at PH-D, even though both firms' funds have seen better days. 

But all of these bashes pale in comparison to the celebrations Ken Griffin threw to mark the 25th anniversary of his firm, Citadel. According to various reports, Citadel hired pop singer Katy Perry to perform at one of the parties. This signal is as clear as a high-speed trading microwave feed between Chicago and New Jersey on a sunny day: "Baby, you're a firework. Come on show them what you're worth. Make them go, `Oh, oh, oh' as you shoot across the sky."

Of course, conspiracy theorists will undoubtedly focus on the presence of Perry's sidekick "Left Shark" and note that no respectable billionaire would ever hire a shark without attaching a laser beam to its head. So maybe Griffin was just signaling that he's got a new, faster way to get his trades across the Atlantic. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Michael P. Regan in New York at mregan12@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Daniel Niemi at dniemi1@bloomberg.net