Memoirs of a Minyan: Animal House
The purpose of the journey is the journey itself.
I didn’t want to crunch the numbers. I wanted to create them.
The Relationship Business
My senior year was supposed to be the best time of my life, the final episode of innocence before embarking on a career. I had the college experience perfected and looked forward to my Syracuse finale.
The stage was set—I bartended at my favorite spot, belonged to an awesome fraternity, and my GPA was on cruise control. I had one eye on the future but my other body parts were firmly committed to squeezing every ounce of life from my remaining time in upstate New York.
The weekend after I arrived home from London, I was lounging at my girlfriend’s home in New Jersey, wasting away a summer day. It was raining, there wasn’t much on television, and we had already eaten, among other things. Bored, I randomly decided to call my aunt, who lived nearby.
Karen was my mother’s college roommate and my father’s cousin. She introduced the two of them, which would explain why she always took an active interest in my well being. As we caught up, she told me of a friend of hers who worked at Morgan Stanley. “You should give him a ring,” she said, “He’s a great guy and a close friend.”
I called Chuck Feldman, who I later realized was a legend on Wall Street. He pioneered the equity derivative business and ran the show at Morgan Stanley. He was the quintessential old-school trader who worked his way to the top and ruled the roost.
His high-pitched voice was extremely soft-spoken on the phone. That’s the first thing I remember about Chuck, how soft-spoken his voice was. It would be the last time I ever had that thought.
He lived in a neighboring town and invited me to swing by. We met for a half hour and had a pleasant enough conversation. He wasn’t a large man, but his presence cast a long shadow.
There was no way to know that it was thirty minutes that would forever change my professional path.
It was thirty minutes that handed me the keys to the cash register.
The Fast Track
I was preparing for our annual toga party after the first semester of my senior year when my phone rang.
“Hey Todd, its Chuck. Listen—we have an opening on the desk and I need to know if you’re interested.”
I was surprised at how noisy the trading room was in the background. “Uh, I’m very interested,” I said, holding the phone in one hand and a Heineken in the other, “but what about school?”
“You can finish up by mail.” he shot back in his patented pitch.
He paused to bark an order at someone. His voice was anything but soft-spoken.
“Let me know if you can start next week!”
That was my chance, I thought—a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bypass the rigorous two-year training program at a top-tier firm, which would then spit me back out to get my MBA, and sit on one of the best trading desks in the world.
I spent the next day chasing professors, pleading with them to shift my course load so I could start at Morgan and still graduate with my class. One by one, they agreed and by the next day, I was set. My girlfriend cried in the background as I picked up the phone to deliver the news to Chuck
“I’ll be there Monday morning,” I said in the most confident tone I could muster, trying to mask my nervousness.
There was silence.
“Hey kid,” he finally said, “Why don’t you finish school and call me when you’re done.”
I didn’t know what that meant—was I getting the job? Did I do something wrong? Did he change his mind? All of these thoughts raced through my mind before I realized he already hung up.
I continued my senior year, occasionally sprinkling a random call to Chuck with hopes of staying on his radar. Each time he was cordial, but at no point did he renew his offer. I tried to enjoy the remainder of the college experience despite the uncertainty that lingered.
Finally, a few days before I graduated with my class in the spring of 1991, I got the wink. “Come in kid, we’ll see what we can do.”
To this day, I don’t know if Chuck’s initial offer was a test to see how badly I wanted the job or an impetuous gesture he later second-guessed. It really didn’t matter—I had my foot in the door and head in the game.
The following Monday, as my friends left for Europe and I nursed a wicked post-graduation hangover, I paced the pristine lobby at 1251 Avenue of the America.
I could almost smell the money.
Check here for the next chapter of Memoirs, "Let the Games Begin!"
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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 email@example.com.
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