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Memoirs of a Minyan: Inmates in the Asylum


The purpose of the journey is the journey itself.


Editor's Note: "Memoirs of a Minyan" is a first-person account that follows Minyanville founder Todd Harrison as he weaves his way through Wall Street and beyond. This e-Book will publish each Wednesday over 18 weeks.

Chapter 1: Inmates in the Asylum

It was the turn of the century and change was afoot.

As Y2K fears swept the Street and the stock market scaled the wall of worry, Wall Street was flush with newfound wealth and irrational exuberance.

It was an exciting time to be a trader as money magically meandered overhead like some sort of magic carpet ride. If you weren't cutting a rug, you were missing out. And everyone from taxi drivers to stay-at-home moms were wearing dancing shoes.

I was already a veteran of my chosen profession, having honed my skills at Morgan Stanley (MS) for seven years before managing the derivative portfolio at a multi-billion dollar New York hedge fund.

At 30 years old, some said I achieved a level of accomplishment in a world filled with grizzly old timers. But there was plenty to do and more to make, a self-serving motivation that drove me to the next best trade.

I knew Jim Cramer and Jeff Berkowitz for many years, having covered their hedge fund while climbing the corporate ladder at Morgan Stanley. I respected them both, as people and professionals, and we established a symbiotic relationship over time.

We swapped ideas, shared insights and traded billions of dollars worth of stock, blazing separate yet similar paths. It was a period of discovery and unbeknownst to us at the time, it was the genesis of a relationship that forever changed our lives.

As 1999 drew to a close, our circles began to overlap with increased frequency. I was ready to take the next step in my career and Cramer Berkowitz was ready to transform its trading desk from an execution platform to a legitimate revenue generator.

They already had the intellectual capital in house and the performance to prove it. Our imminent marriage would lift us to the next level and establish our fund as a force to be reckoned with.

The courtship was seamless as we took the necessary steps to consummate the relationship; I would join the firm as a partner and run the entire trading operation. I asked for full autonomy on staffing decisions, commission direction and risk management systems. Each and every request was granted.

As we uncorked several bottles at Gramercy Tavern, the deal was struck with hugs and handshakes. The trading operation would be mine to mold and after ten years on the Street, I finally had an operation to put my fingerprints on. I tendered my resignation at The Galleon Group and took the first cab I could find to 40 Fulton Street.

I was hungry yet humble, excited yet nervous, enthusiastic yet measured.

The existing traders had been with Cramer Berkowitz for years, executing the vision and vibes of Jim, Jeff and research director Matt Jacobs. I was schooled a bit differently and believed the trading process could be additive and accretive to profits derived solely from the research functionality.

I assumed my position at the head of the desk and committed myself to quietly observe the people who would become my professional family for the next three years.

But as I would quickly learn, my role at Cramer Berkowitz would be far from quiet and anything but normal.

Just the way I like it.

The Purpose of the Journey is the Journey Itself

I didn't always want to be a trader. In fact, it's a small miracle I found my way to Wall Street and beyond.

I struggled whether to share this story as I didn't know if anyone would be interested in my lot in life. As I weaved my way through the many mazes in my mind, I decided to put pen to paper and recount my steps.

If not for you, for me, but with a larger lens on the immediate gratification conspicuously consumptive society we lived in. Some might say I bowed to the false idolatry of money and perhaps I did. I was conditioned to believe that success was measured by a bottom line and validation could be found in a bank account.

Everything you're about to read is true, as seen through my eyes. I share it without vice or virtue and with all due humility. Lou Manheim said in the movie Wall Street, "Man looks in the abyss, there's nothing staring back at him. At that moment, man finds his character. And that is what keeps him out of the abyss."

I've stared into a few black holes during my career and emerged each time with newfound passion and incremental resolve. The ability to turn obstacles into opportunities is one of life's best-kept secrets and the greatest wisdom is bred as a function of pain.

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