I tell this story in my book Street Freak—Money and Madness at Lehman Brothers, but I’ll tell it again here (abbreviated version).
My Wall Street journey started two years earlier, actually, in San Francisco. I was getting my MBA at the University of San Francisco, and I realized that USF wasn’t a good enough school to get me a job at a bank on its own. Nobody recruited there. It was, like, the 170th ranked school in the country. I was going to need something else.
I leveraged some contacts and got some informational interviews, one at the regional office of JPMorgan and one with a mortgage trader at Sutro (later acquired by RBC Dain Rauscher; I don’t know what it is now). But I was really interested in the options trading floor, the open-outcry exchange downtown. I found out through the career center that a USF alum was a trader there. So I got a hold of him and went down to the floor for a visit.
If you’ve never been on an exchange floor, it is really an experience. My first time on a public trading floor, I went down to the old CSCE (Coffee, Sugar and Cocoa Exchange) in 5 World Trade Center in 1998. I was visiting a guy who traded sugar options.
While I was there, someone turned some discarded trade tickets into a pair of spurs and affixed them to the back of some poor clerk’s shoes. The whole trading floor, maybe a thousand people, started yelling yeeeeeeehawwwww and square dancing all over the place. It was right about then that I decided I wanted to be a trader.
So there I am on the P. Coast (as it is known) and it’s this dark, musty place that smells like burritos, with all these multicolored screens and with a bunch of people acting like jackasses.
My USF friend shows me around for a bit, and I ask him if I can wander around after he gets back to work.
He says “Sure.”
So I skulk around the trading floor with a little note pad, taking down the name of any firm I can read, so I can contact them later for an interview.
While I am standing there, a trader in the crowd turns around and throws a water bottle towards the trash can, but narrowly misses my head.
The broker standing next to me looks at me, looks at him, and starts yelling, “That guy’s a _______ marine, he’s going to kick your ___!”
Then he says, “Are you looking for a job?”
I nod my head.
“I’m going to take you to a guy,” he says. “Shake his hand and take his business card and call him tomorrow.”
They call me in for two interviews. I pass with flying colors. I am now a clerk for a market-making group on the floor of the exchange, with about 10 traders.
I’ll fast forward a bit. Two years later, I finagled a few interviews with banks in New York. One of them was Lehman Brothers. They were really interested in my story, that I was in the Coast Guard and worked my way through business school, and that I got this trading job on the floor in my spare time.
There’s no possible way that Lehman would have hired me if I didn’t work on the floor, and there’s no possible way I would have gotten that job on the floor if I hadn’t been standing in that piece of real estate when that water bottle went whizzing by.
Or was it?
At The Daily Dirtnap, I have an assistant—I have had four over the years. I try to help with job placement after they graduate from school. The first worked for a financial advisor in Charleston. The second works for a fund of funds. The third, well, I was trying to get her a back/middle office job at an investment bank in New York.
I managed to get her two interviews, and off she went, in her suit, with a stack of resumes.
So she goes to the first interview and is riding the subway to the second interview, when she is accosted by a woman in a suit. “You look like you are going to a job interview.”
“Yes,” my assistant says and tells her where.
“How would you like to interview at __________?” she says.
So my assistant meets this woman on the subway and makes it through several rounds of interviews and yes, got a middle-office job at a large asset manager by meeting someone on the subway.
What are the chances of that?
Then again, what are the chances of getting a job by almost getting hit with a water bottle?
Suit Up, Show Up
What do these two scenarios have in common?
I wouldn’t have gotten hit by the water bottle if I didn’t go down to the exchange floor.
Neither of those things would have happened if we’d been just sitting at home.
Showing up really is half the battle!
When I was working at Lehman, every once in a while, some tool would show up in front of the building and hand out resumes to anyone who walked inside. That’s a bad strategy, but guess what—better than sitting at home wishing you had a job! Precisely no jobs have been attained that way.
I was watching a documentary on Madonna many years ago. The story is that she showed up in New York, age 19 or whatever, and literally just walked the streets until she got noticed. It didn’t take long—she just looked like a star. Again, nothing happens to you when you are sitting in your apartment.
Every once in a while I fall into this trap. For 20 years, I have wanted to get a short story published in a literary magazine. Until this year, how many short stories had I submitted? Zero. So I finally did it this year, sending out the third chapter of my new book to a bunch of journals. And I’ll submit another short story later this year, and another one after that. It will happen.
I heard this saying in a movie: wish in one hand, spit in the other, see which one fills up first. If Wall Street has taught me anything, it has taught me how to hustle. Get out there. Make stuff happen.
Nobody who learns this lesson will ever go hungry.