"Inspiration, move me brightly. Light the song with sense and color, hold away despair." --Grateful Dead
The holiday season has arrived and with it, our annual self-reflection has begun.
For many, 2008 will be measured by a bottom line that dictates whether we've invested wisely and prepared accordingly. Wall Street, for all its vices and virtues, is a place where self-worth is measured by net worth.
Win, lose or draw, we know where we stand. Make money and it was time well spent. Lose money and it was a lesson in the making.
We've chewed through the financial malaise throughout the year. From debt and derivatives to socialization and nationalization, there's been much to discuss and plenty to debate.
The Chinese have a saying, "May you live in interesting times" and so it is, we're now importing proverbs from the Far East.
This column isn't about the next five percent, secular headwinds or geopolitical interpretation. I've spent countless hours writing about that and will continue to do so as we edge ahead.
No, this missive is about a different kind of profitability, one that's not measured by the size of a house or the speed of a car. It's about the important stuff, giving back and staying true to the person you are.
It's a tale of love, respect, tribute and honor.
The Roots of Ruby
My dad left our family when I was three and my grandfather assumed his role. As fantastic as my mother was, devoting her life to her children, a young boy needs a man in his life to set the tone and set him straight. Ruby was that guiding hand throughout my childhood.
As I grew older, I would learn that everything happens for a reason. Divorce is unfortunate but it facilitated a bond that wouldn't otherwise exist. My grandfather's devotion was steadfast and empowering as we became best friends and he taught me how to be a man.
When I graduated college in 1991, I landed a job at Morgan Stanley (MS) but lacked the necessary means to afford an apartment. Further, the confidence that defined my Syracuse experience suddenly morphed into an exposed vulnerability. I needed a beacon in the night and a magnet for my moral compass.
Lucky for me, I didn't have to look very far.
I lived in the den of my grandparents' home as I found my way. I was overwhelmed with trying to understand the ropes of a new livelihood but could always count on one thing.
Every time I turned around, whenever I needed assurance, Ruby was there with a knowing glance and helping hand.
Years later, my grandmother Dorothy told me that my grandfather sat in my room while I was at work and stared at my shoes. "He loved you so much," she said with a smile, "that he just wanted to be closer to you."
This I knew, for as much as I write and as hard as I try, I've yet to find the words that can aptly describe the love and loyalty that I carry to this day.
I was too naive to fully understand the golden door that opened when I started on Wall Street but what I lacked in wisdom was aided by guidance.
And no matter how daunting my professional path, I was not about to let down the most important person in my life.
Earning stripes on the Morgan Stanley global equity derivative desk isn't easy when you're 21 years old. We're talking old school Wall Street here, where money talked and nonsense walked. They say that nothing worth having ever comes easy. I would relearn that lesson many times over the course of my career.
I spent countless hours sitting with my grandfather as he espoused wisdom that transcends generations.
All you have is your name and your word.
What goes around comes around.
Time is the most precious of commodities.
Each struck a chord and lit the way, even if I didn't fully appreciate the magnitude of their meaning.
The next 10 years passed in the blink of an eye. Morgan Stanley. The Galleon Group. Cramer Berkowitz. Each step ushered in an entirely new set of challenges that made my previous place pale in comparison. And every time I stumbled, which happened far more often that I care to admit, Ruby was there to pick me up.
When the turn of the century arrived, I was navigating a $400 million portfolio through the biggest implosion in financial history. I began writing that summer and found rhythm in the written word. It wasn't something I expected but it came naturally and helped synthesize my thoughts.
Someone had told me to write about what you know and what you love. The former was simple enough. The latter was a matter of fate.
Ruby became ill and was admitted to the Del Ray Beach Hospital. Each weekend, I traveled to Florida so I could hold his hand while he struggled through his sickness. After a while, I shared with my readers why I needed to leave early every Friday. I wrote about my best friend, why he mattered and how very much I loved him.
An amazing thing began to happen. I received emails from around the world from folks who had similar stories about grandparents, children, mothers, fathers and friends. There were ten at first and then a hundred. In time, there were thousands. We read those tributes to Ruby while he laid in intensive care, one after another, month after month.
If so many people took time to write someone they never met to lift the spirits of a man they only heard of, I would continue to share whatever insights I had in an attempt to help them navigate the twists and turns of the financial markets.
And so it began, the Minyanville community was birthed before we ever knew what it would be or where it would reside.Letting Go and Carrying On
It was a random Wednesday in the spring of 2001 when I suddenly stopped trading and booked a flight. I sensed something was amiss and rather than wait for my regularly scheduled sojourn, I canceled my appointments and headed south.
I arrived at the hospital, raced to his room, held his hand and whispered in his ear. Five minutes later, a rush of energy passed through my body as his eyes shut and his grip softened. It was his time and he passed on his terms, surrounded by family as per his wishes.
I should have been prepared for the pain but reality was harsh, as it tends to be. Letting go is one thing but navigating the world without a north star was considerably different. People deal with hardship in different ways. For me, that meant staying true to my word that I would take care of the family and focus on business.
The summer of 2001 was a time of introspection and reflection. They say the greatest tribute you can pay to someone is living your life in a manner consistent with what he or she would have wanted. By the time Labor Day arrived, I transitioned from a place of sadness to a state of celebration.And that's precisely when the towers fell
The autumn of 2001 planted seeds that continue to sow with each passing day. I didn’t understand how seismic the shift was at the time but I began to question my lot in life and the legacy I would one day leave behind.
I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize the drawn, empty face that returned my dazed stare. Soon thereafter, I left my high profile perch and launched the Ruby Peck Foundation for Children's Education and Minyanville Media, Inc. with hopes of honoring my grandfather and affecting positive change through financial understanding.
It was a world away from big money management but a place I knew I needed to be. I remember thinking that it would be a welcome lifestyle shift, one without eight-figure daily swings or twenty-four hour stress. I was right but I was also very wrong as I entered into an entirely new professional arena.
I didn't anticipate the workload, expenses, energy, hours or effort but each step was solid and each year grew stronger. Every mistake became a lesson. Each obstacle morphed into an opportunity. As we look forward to 2009, I'm happy to report that our global community has never been stronger and we are indeed making a difference.Bringing it Home
During the last few years of conspicuous consumption and intense competition, giving back took a back seat to getting ahead. Now that the age of austerity has arrived like a clap of thunder, many are struggling as we edge our way through the new world order.
There’s no denying times are tough and we’re facing a few lean years. We can point fingers or cast blame but negative energy is wasted energy. If we’re not part of the solution, we’re part of the problem and as a wise man once said, what goes around comes around.
We’re doing our part to affect positive change for the future leaders, healers, dreamers and visionaries. Tomorrow night, December 4th, the Minyanville community will migrate to New York City in my grandfather’s good name. At the end of the evening, a lot of children will be better off because of our collective efforts
A dream is only as powerful as those who believe in it. That's why I wanted to step away from the tape and share this tale. Sometimes we need to take a moment to reflect on the past if he hope to leave our mark on the future.
May peace be with you.
R.P.Please be advised that the 2008 Holiday Festivus to benefit the Ruby Peck Foundation for Children's Education has officially SOLD OUT as we tagged our magical 300 Minyan mark. If you (or someone you know) would still like to attend, shoot us an e-mail and we'll see what we can do. We strive to take care of our own in these parts and as always, we'll do our best to circle ye faithful.
No positions in stocks mentioned.
Todd Harrison is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Minyanville. Prior to his current role, Mr. Harrison was President and head trader at a $400 million dollar New York-based hedge fund. Todd welcomes your comments and/or feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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