Internship gone wrong – Tragic story of Moritz Erhardt and “smart” drug epidemic

Moritz Erhardt: The 21 year old Merrill Lynch intern whose three consecutive all-nighters killed him. Pic from The Standard.
Moritz Erhardt: The 21 year old Merrill Lynch intern whose three consecutive all-nighters killed him. Pic:

Hi there,

There are worse ways to spend 90 minutes than watching The Internship. Especially once you accept it’s really a long Google advert masquerading as a movie. At R25 through Box Office, it’s money and time well invested.

The movie is mostly fun with lots of jokes. But a serious message does emerge: just how tough it is nowadays to get a break when you’re young and ambitious.

The movie treats us to an inside look at how Google sifts through countless applications to select a few dozen interns for final adjudication on its California campus. And how the prize for the handful who win the competition is, wait for it, a full-time job.

That’s not easy to swallow if you’re from a generation who regarded job-hopping as a necessary evil to get ahead. I worked at seven newspapers and magazines in my first eight years – every time after being approached with a better deal. Today, with youth unemployment worldwide at stratospheric levels, just getting into the game is an achievement.

So I guess we shouldn’t be surprised at the story of Moritz Erhardt, the 21 year old found dead in his London flat last month after literally working himself to death.

Moritz, a German, was one of two selected from 1500 applicants for a seven week internship position at Merrill Lynch/Bank of America. Having been around for almost two months, keen to impress right to the end, he put in three successive all-nighters. Moritz’s body was found in the shower, the water still running. His young, healthy body simply gave up.

The UK media is clogged with pundits offering advice, throwing allegations and calling for change. But more relevant in the current context, through their continuous digging reporters have uncovered the widespread use in the City of London of the “smart” drug Modafinil, sold in South Africa as Provigil.

Developed to combat narcolepsy (sudden sleep attacks), the drug apparently focuses the mind for hours without any noticeable side-effects. It is alarmingly popular among investment bankers working without sleep to put together big deals. And, clearly, for interns battling to cope with the brutal hours.

You have to wonder how dumb the system has become.

Man is not designed to be an automaton. He has always been best when well rested. We operate like saws. Sharp, and we are efficient, getting through the task quickly and with ease. Blunted by overuse and what should be a simple task takes forever.

Even in the darkest days of World War Two, Winston Churchill ensured he got plenty of rest, regularly sleeping until noon. Perhaps it’s time for society to remember his example and take stock.

That said, we’ve been putting in a few extra hours at to sharpen up the site. Including, as you’ll see when you next visit, design changes that make it easier for you to more readily access the information you need.

In between tagging sharks (seriously) in Mozambique, our marine biologist webmaster Justin has inserted a scrolling box at the top of the home page clicking through to the latest SENS information. A little lower down the page you’ll also see a graph showing how the JSE is trading today. Hope you like it. I do.

Thanks for all of the emails last week with some great ideas on how we can improve

Unfortunately, there have been so many mails that I’ve literally had to choose between sleep and good manners. No Modafinil for me. You will get a response. It might just take a little longer than London investment bankers might expect!

Thanks as always for your support – and for spreading the word about Our stats show your assistance is having a huge impact.

Until next time.


Alec Hogg’s weekly newsletter is distributed on Friday mornings. Subscribe for your own copy by clicking here.  

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Don’t miss out. Here are the other stories that made the Top Ten this week.


Insider’s view of what went wrong at Abil, ways to fix the unsecured lending problem – Abil’s former CFO Dave Woollam

Telkom: Time to bet on its Dream Team; always had great assets, but now being well managed for first time

Exposed: Many professional analysts, fund managers don’t understand A and B share structures

Time to switch out of your Satrix 40? SA’s large cap industrial shares most expensive “sector” in world

Barisheff explains why $10 000 gold price “inevitable” – consequences of QE only part of reason

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You don’t care about the opinion of others. Who are you kidding?


And for more great online reading, here’s the top five on Gill Moodie’s Grubstreet:

The following are the five best read articles on during the week of November 18 to November 22, 2013:

From the “what” to the “why”: SA daily front pages, 21 Nov

“Blessed and cursed”: Nigeria’s Tolu Ogunlesi [CNN MultiChoice journ awards], 19 Nov

Post’s civic campaign shows connection to readers is key to success [Vodacom journ awards], 20 Nov

How to make this one interesting? SA daily front pages, 19 Nov

Custom mags: one-million club declines [ABC Q3 2013], 21 Nov

In case you missed them the previous week:

Brendan Boyle & the DA: Can we trust journalists to be objective?, Nov 12

Allow yourself a smile, editors and newsrooms [ABC Q3 2013], Nov 13

The little people, whose stories win big [CNN MultiChoice journ awards], Nov 14

You can also follow Grubstreet on Twitter.

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