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The Minyanville Mission: An Interview with Todd Harrison


People who are good at what they do, but better at what they are.

Damien: I am one of those people who was introduced to your site very early on. I saw when it was just a bunch of hedge fund guys or people on the Street who were privately talking to one another and sharing ideas throughout the course of the trading day. To see what Minyanville has grown to since then is very impressive.

Todd: Thanks! Our team has done a fantastic job. I credit a lot of our success to our editorial motto of "Truth and Trust." All of our contributors have joined our mission. A number of our Professors have invested in Minyanville. So, it's actually a very unique model in terms of co-opting the human capital and all working towards a common goal.

A good example of our "Truth and Trust" motto arose during 2005-2006. There was little benefit for Minyanville to talk about how the wheels were going to fall off the wagon and how Wall Street was technically insolvent -- including the most powerful firms in the world, whether it's the Goldmans (GS) of the world or what have you.

We took a big risk to talk about Citigroup and AIG (AIG) -- about how all these firms are technically insolvent when they were near all-time highs. There were a lot of raised eyebrows. People don't want to read about that stuff when markets are flying high. That's why I say it was of no benefit to us to do that.

So, the fact that we could do that, and do it in a way that was not acrimonious, shows we had no agenda. We just wanted to communicate what we were seeing, why we were seeing it, and what we were doing. I think that resonated with people in that we communicated with Truth and Trust -- without an agenda. I think that nowadays Truth and Trust are both commodities, and we were mining for those very early on.

Damien: I'm a big believer in positive karma, so I love the motto "Truth and Trust." Smita Sadana, one of the Professors at Minyanville, said you are one of the brightest guys on Wall Street. Who do you think are some of the brightest men or women on Wall Street?

Todd: Smita is a doll. I'm humbled by her comment. I'm just lucky to be surrounded by people who are very smart. So in many ways, I'm sort of a cross between a UHF antenna and Andy Dufresne when he crawled out of that river in Shawshank Redemption.

I'm just channeling a lot of the acumen that surrounds me. There are some great people who have had a strong influence on my career. Guys like John Succo who is best of breed in terms of risk management if you look at his track record over the 10 years.

Bennet Sedacca, may he rest in peace, was a very sharp cookie when it came to the fixed income side. David Slaine, who was my big brother on Wall Street when I came up, is one of the best tape readers I've ever seen. Minyan Peter is extremely smart. Jeffrey Cooper is a great trader.

One of the things we try to do at Minyanville is attract a lot of different lenses with which to view the market. If you look at the market through enough lenses, then you create a prism of decision making. So, there are a lot of smart people. Everyone on the Minyanville website has been vetted. But in terms of my personal experience, I'd have to say probably John Succo and David Slaine were the two guys who really impacted my career the most.

Damien: Since you worked at Cramer Berkowitz, what type of an impact did Jim Cramer have on your career?

Todd: I will always be indebted to Jim for giving me the opportunity to write because I look back at the last 10 years and say if I didn't have the outlet to write or the healthy catharsis, I probably would've spontaneously combusted by now. So I give Jim all the credit in the world for allowing me to identify that writing was a passion and I'm thankful to him for that.

Damien: Since those people affected you in such a positive way, what type of advice do you have for young people who read this interview and are aspiring to follow in your footsteps?

Todd: I simply say, do what you love! One of the oldest adages, is true: do what you love and the money will come. I was making $5 million dollars a year, was 31 years old and President of a $400 million dollar hedge fund. I was passionate about that for a very long time. That's probably in large part why I got to where I am.

But, from now until the foreseeable future, Wall Street is going to be entirely more austere in terms of pay. If you're going into it for the money, save yourself the time because it's not something that is going to be, as a matter of rule rather than the exception, the quick pay day it once was. And that's probably a healthy thing.

I look back at my path, and I am most proud of the mistakes I made and the hardships I endured. But for those mistakes and hardships -- the pain and the hurt -- I wouldn't know I have the depth to absorb what it has taken to get to this point. I'm very thankful for that. Minyanville is a very humble place in terms of what it has taken to get here and the perspective that nothing comes for free.

I once took a lot things for granted. I was never a bad guy, but I had clearly misplaced or skewed priorities in certain regards -- particularly when it came to money. It had taken a round trip for me to take a step back and truly appreciate things I once took for granted. So, what I would say to young people -- and I've had this conversation while speaking at schools over the last year or so -- is don't let the economy deter you. I would offer we are probably halfway through this process of the economy correcting -- and it's going to be a process. But, it's also a tremendous opportunity!

If you look at something like the Great Depression as a construct of optimism and the franchises that were born out of that time period -- whether it's the Washington Post, Disney, Texas Instruments (TXN), Tyson Foods, or Continental Airlines (CAL) -- there were tremendous franchises that rose from the ashes. I think that script is going play out again. The leaders coming out of a crisis are never the same as the ones going in.

In the financial field, look at the boutique shops that are starting to gain market and mind share: BTIG, WJB Capital, and other smaller niche operations. You look at the media space, wherein traditional networks are simply channels in the digital world, and you see a lot of media franchises that have burst out of the rubble: the Huffington Post, the Daily Beast, and even Minyanville with the opportunities we have right now.

So, if I have to drill down my advice into one pithy bottom line, I'd say: Do something you are passionate about. Think outside the box. And understand the greatest opportunities are bred from the most profound obstacles.
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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