Aspire to Inspire

By Todd Harrison  DEC 02, 2009 7:45 AM

If we're not part of the solution, we're part of the problem.

 


"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, 2009 will be measured by a bottom line that dictates whether we've invested wisely. 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 brew all year. From a nauseous nadir that almost broke the system to an enormous rally that defies gravity; there's 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 honor, respect, and tribute.

The Roots of Ruby

My dad left our family when I was three and my grandfather assumed his role. As fantastic as my mom 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 a hardship but it facilitated a bond that wouldn't otherwise exist. My grandfather's love was steadfast and empowering as we became best friends; he taught me how to be a man.

When I graduated college in 1991, I began a job at Morgan Stanley (MS) but lacked the means to afford an apartment. Further, the confidence that defined my Syracuse experience suddenly morphed into an exposed vulnerability as I attempted to learn a craft.

I needed a beacon in the night and a magnet for my moral compass. Lucky for me, I didn't have to look 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 steady 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, "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 words to describe the love and loyalty I carry to this day.

I was too naive to understand the golden door that opened when I started on Wall Street -- or the cost it would exact through the years -- but what I lacked in wisdom was supplanted by guidance.

And no matter how daunting my professional path became, I was not about to let down the single most important person in my life.

Stair Steps

Earning stripes on the Morgan Stanley global equity derivative desk wasn’t easy at 21 years old. We're talking old school Wall Street, where money talked and nonsense walked.

They say 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.

Think positive.

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. Each step ushered in a new set of challenges that made my previous plateau pale in comparison. Every time I stumbled -- which happened often -- 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 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 to hold his hand while he struggled and shared the tale with my readers. 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 my insights in an attempt to help them navigate the twists and turns of the financial universe.

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 wrong 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 different. People deal with loss in different ways. For me, it 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 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 the seismic shift at the time but I began to question my lot in life and the legacy I would one day leave behind.

Soon after, 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 effecting positive change through financial understanding.

It was a world away from money management but a place I knew I needed to be. I remember thinking it would be a welcome lifestyle shift, one without eight-figure daily swings or twenty-four hour stress. I was right but also very wrong as I launched a start-up in an entirely new professional arena.

I didn't anticipate the workload, expenses, energy or effort but passion and purpose persevered.

Every mistake became a lesson.

Each obstacle was viewed as an opportunity.

As we look forward to 2010, 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 years of conspicuous consumption and immediate gratification, giving back took a back seat to getting ahead. As the age of austerity arrives like a clap of thunder, many are struggling as they attempt to adapt to the new economic reality and the attendant social mood.

There’s no denying times are tough and there are plenty of reasons to be upset. We can point fingers or place blame but negative energy is wasted energy. If we’re not part of the solution, we’re part of the problem. That may sound trite to some but society is simply a sum of the parts.

A wise man once told me, what goes around comes around. Psychic income may not pay immediate dividends but it enriches the soul in a way that can’t be measured by bottom lines and bank accounts. It doesn’t have to be money; it could be time. It can be whatever you want as long as it’s something.

Each year we do our part to effect positive change for the leaders, healers, dreamers, and visionaries of tomorrow. This Friday night, December 4th, the Minyanville community will gather in New York City and at the end of the evening, a lot of children will be better off because of our collective efforts.

We invite you to join us.

A dream is only as powerful as those who believe in it, which is why I stepped away from the flickering ticks to share this tale. Sometimes reflecting on the past is the first step towards reshaping the future.

May peace be with you.

R.P.


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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 todd@minyanville.com.

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