Changes in Latitudes (Part I)
Editor's Note: As was recently announced, I'll be leaving MVHQ to take a full-time position with Tuttle Asset Management, LLC as Chief Operating Officer and Portfolio Manager. It's impossible for me to transition from this role without saying thanks and indulging in a little sentiment. This is an amazing community and I will continue to stay very much plugged into it. Any market-content should be considered purely accidental.
"Reading departure signs in some big airport
Reminds me of the places I've been
Visions of good times that brought so much pleasure
Makes me want to go back again"
You can't know what's possible unless you remember both who you are and how you got there. Indulge me then, if you will, as we head into the New Year while I take a look back at my time in the 'Ville.
Allow Myself to Introduce...Myself....
"Greg Collins" I said extending my hand with faux confidence. It was a Saturday night in my childhood stomping grounds - Timonium, Maryland. It was also home to my beloved but gravely-ill grandfather Edward Eaton. He had been sick for many years but as I would learn after the fact, this was a much different trip; I was there to say goodbye. Had I known at the time, I probably never would have met Todd Harrison.
I had followed Toddo's trading diary religiously as he called the market seemingly tick for tick from his perch at C-Berk. On-line financial columnist circles were, admittedly, small cliques but, if they were high schools, Todd-O would be the Prom King. I was embarrassed, in large part only because I was embarrassed. From what I'd read of him, Todd would understand the circularity of that predicament.
"Todd Harrison" he said as he spun around with a sheepish grin. It was a look which suggested both tenuous command of the situation and mild-shock at finding himself in it. It was a look that in time would become familiar to me. I did a double take - he hardly looked like the animated web photo.
And that's how things got started friends - with a handshake and a few drinks at a March Madness Minyanfest at Padonia Station in 2003.
From there the pitchers and stories flowed. From work, to trading, to our grandfathers, to life and of course to Maryland basketball; we covered it all. At one point in the evening Todd threw his cell phone at me. That's when I had the pleasure for the first time of saying hello to the creative genius behind Minyanville, Casey Cannon. If the goal was to put me at ease, it worked. Honestly, how stressed can you get, drinking pitchers in your suit with a semi-famous trader who, as Macke might say, looked like he picked his clothes straight out of a hamper?
I went back to pop's house that night and we talked well past midnight. He told me stories about my father who had died nearly a year prior. He told stories, the way only people who are dying could tell them. We made prank calls to my brothers just for the stupid thrill of it. The two of us laughed until it hurt; it felt good. At the time I was a year into a position with a start-up hedge fund in Boston that did a lot more stopping then it ever did starting. Performance was dismal and I had sunken every penny to my name (and then some) into the effort. It was a much needed respite.
I penned a quick note of thanks that Monday only to be pleasantly surprised by the following response that came back:
"Nice, thanks Greg--appreciate the snaps and the handshake. Good luck to you--you're a good Minyan.
It would take a year before our paths crossed again when I responded to a call from Todd looking for some help. I wasn't looking for an entry level position. I was five years into the business, but I wanted to learn from the best and I was fully confident I would prove myself once I got a foot in the door.
I took the train down to the City for an interview with Todd and Fokker at their office, which at the time was right on hedge fund alley (Park Ave). I was decked out in Wall Street wear: blue pinstripes, crisp white shirt and a power tie. I had resolved myself that I simply wasn't going to be denied.
I waited in the lobby for about an hour before Fokker escorted me into the conference room that day and proceeded to question me about my background. He played the part quite well. We had a good conversation and I relaxed momentarily as he slipped out of the room to bring in Todd, all the while telling myself I wasn't going to be denied.
Another hour passed before Fokker came back in to tell me the sobering news - Todd wasn't going to be able to meet with me. Ok, so maybe I am going to be denied I thought as I packed up my things and grabbed my coat. I jumped on an Amtrak train and attempted to numb my disappointment with vodka and soda. It didn't help much.
As I pulled into the station my phone rang. "Are you still in the city" an obviously hurried voice called out. "It's Toddo - sorry we weren't able to connect. Can we meet now by any chance?" "I just got back home but I will be on the first train tomorrow morning" I shot back. I've never asked him what happened that day but my guess is a slew of Fannie puts were being uncooperative. It didn't matter - I was off the canvas.
The following day I was greeted with an enormous hug as I entered the office and spent the entire day talking and shadowing Todd. After a pile of fresh fish for lunch we excused ourselves from the desk and went to a conference room to chat.
"You don't want this job" he stated. "You're overqualified and I can't pay you much. The hours will be hellish, and I am difficult to work for too" he continued only stopping his now concerning "anti-sales pitch" as a function of the distraction of my red turtle cufflinks. "Are those critters?"
"Look, I want this job and I don't care about the details" I offered attempting to redirect the conversation. "I don't want money to be an issue. We will figure that part out when I get down here but I am the man for this job and I will prove that to you." I was on a roll - there might as well have been some flag-waving music softly playing in the background. Ok - time to reel Toddo in with my big finale. And that's when it happened...
"I'm the kind of guy who's going dig the puck out of the corner for you" I heard myself say in disbelief. Huh? "What the hell does that mean" I thought recalling with a sense of irony that I have no clue how to skate or play hockey whatsoever. Damage control - ok get composed Collins or you're gonna blow your big chance.
"I like that - dig the puck out of the corner" Todd said to my amazement. Little did I know that was one of the things that essentially helped seal the deal.
"What about your living situation - how are you going to move and afford to live in Manhattan?" Now I've never lied in a job interview in my life. Honesty and integrity are of the highest priority to me - but I did that day (and I would do it all over again). "I'll make it work" I said at first brushing off his concern and admittedly without fully understanding the money pit that is New York City. "How?" he countered "this is an awfully expensive town you know." I could see my nose growing as I told him I had a place to stay. "Don't worry about it - I'll make it happen" I said as much attempting to convince myself.
"Ok you've got the job but I need someone down here like yesterday in order to make this work" he said matter-of-factly.
"I'll be down there in two days" I told him not wanting to let the opportunity slip away.
"You're going to work where? With no place to live? And you will hardly get paid? And you are fine with all of this?" she said in total bewilderment. My poor girlfriend nearly smacked me silly upon hearing my seemingly ill-advised plan. Now it's been said that you can read a person through their eyes; hers were calling me a ridiculous fool in no uncertain terms. "I'll make it work" I boldly proclaimed. "Ok, well admittedly I don't get it but I'll support you if this is what you want to do" she said courageously. She wasn't buying it though. "How do you plan to live?" she wondered as I did the same.
And so I set off to make it work - like so many have before me. I was commuting two hours out to Long Island each way with the only friend I dare ask on such short notice. I did that for six weeks before he finally asked me not to come back. My four am wake-up calls were simply too much.
Upon leaving Long Island, I snagged an admittedly horrendous apartment on the Upper East Side. I am not sure why, however, as I would simply sleep in the office for most of the first year, waking in time to shoot home for a quick shower before returning to work for another day. That was simply the routine. It was a stressful time and money was tight. I was making dimes, spending dollars and forced to trade to make up the difference month to month.
But slowly that was going to change...
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