There's plenty to discuss from the headlines these days. But this summer I've been buried with edits to my next novel, The Gods of Greenwich. And I'm staring at a few deadlines now. With this post, however, I'd like to take you back to the summer of 2007. It was a time before Bernie Madoff confessed, before AIG lost $99 billion in one year and before staffers wrote 1,500 pages of financial reform. Now two members of Congress occupy our attention, elected officials who sit in judgment even with their hands in the cookie jar (allegedly).
Like I said. We're going back three years to the summer of 2007. Here's the first chapter of Top Producer, which will be out in paperback on December 28. If you stop back tomorrow or Thursday, I'll post Chapter Two.
Six weeks ago I was a rising star at a white-shoe investment bank and brokerage firm. I was Babe Ruth on my way from Boston to New York City, John F. Kennedy connecting with crowds during the presidential elections. The markets were rocking during the first half of 2007. And it seemed clear that one day I would become a titan of finance, a fixture on the business pages of The New York Times.
My job is the occupation formerly known as “stockbroker.” But it has been years since anyone called me that. Stockbroker sounds oily. Glengarry Glen Ross. The word makes clients twitch.Even brokerage houses, institutions that profit from legions of smiling, dialing, cold-calling robotrons, cast about for less unctuous titles. Stockbrokers are “investment professionals” over at Goldman. Morgan Stanley can’t decide whether its people are “investment representatives” or “financial advisers.” Another competitor is toying with “private bankers.” After eight years in the industry, I have grown numb to all the angst.
I focus on a different name. Wall Street calls its most successful salespeople “top producers.” Think of us as rainmakers, the folks who butter the bread. We are a brash bunch at the office. We have opinions about everything and say what we want, for we understand three axioms about our industry.
One: Investors hire advisers with strong points of view. The more impassioned our convictions, the better.
Two: As long as we generate revenues, bosses tolerate our quirks and leave us the hell alone.
Three: Wall Street firms pay ridiculous money to top producers. And that, my friend, is a beautiful thing if you’ve ever been poor.
I was a top producer, the captain of a cramped cubicle rigged with a 21-inch, flat-screen monitor and an even bigger television hanging from the ceiling. Around my desk the stacks of investment research often crested five feet before toppling like dominos into nearby aisles.
Who needs space to make money?
I managed ideas, not clutter. My job was to cut through all the market chaos and sniff out the truth. Wall Street coughs up so much investment phlegm. If I wasn’t on the phone guarding clients, “my guys” to use the industry vernacular, I wasn’t making money. Bold, opinionated, you bet. I had all the answers and then some.
On hedge funds: “Would you let someone play Vegas with your money and give them twenty percent of the winnings?”
On McKinsey’s alumni, the ex-consultants infiltrating the ranks of Wall Street’s management: “Fucking revenge of the nerds. One day, those people will suck our industry dry of testosterone and everything good.”
On money management: “Wall Street is the only place in the world where thirty seconds swing ten million dollars into place. Try buying real estate for the same amount and you’ll grow old as lawyers negotiate the fine points.”
Finance was fast. It was furious. And I thrived on the frenzied pace. I had broken into the big leagues of capitalism and brought my “A” game to the office every day. So I thought. The last six weeks changed everything. My world unraveled the night Charlie Kelemen hosted his wife's birthday bash in the New England Aquarium. Best friend, savior, a man who wore Brioni suits the way sweet Italian sausages split their fatty innards over open flames—that was Charlie Kelemen. He did so much for me. He did so much for all his friends. I still can’t believe what Charlie did to us.
The signs were all there. We should have seen it coming.