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Memoirs of a Minyan: Let the Games Begin!

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The purpose of the journey is the journey itself.

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I was overwhelmed by the speed and intensity on the trading floor. I attempted to mask my ignorance by keeping my head down and not speaking unless spoken to. I later learned that other traders, many of whom took the traditional path, thought I was cocky. Still others worked in the back office, toiling in operations control, waiting years for their shot to grasp the brass ring. I was oblivious to the competition, animosity and resentment.

There was an exclusive fraternity and it was up to me to gain respect and earn the right to wear Morgan Stanley across my chest. I extended myself, picking up more phones and relaying bigger orders. The harder I tried, the more mistakes I made and self-doubt morphed into a complete lack of confidence.

I couldn't seem to grasp the business but committed myself to doing whatever it took to lend value to the operation. I was going to do whatever anyone else didn't have the time to do.

Getting Tossed

During a hectic morning with wild market swings, I offered to grab lunch for Jack Skiba, the second-in-command behind Chuck Feldman. I told him with a hint of humor that I made a mean salad, watching closely for a response. He grumbled something I couldn't understand before reaching for his wallet.

"I got it." I said, slowly reaching towards my pocket. "Stop it!" he responded, seeing through my empty gesture.

I must have spent 20 minutes making that salad. The tomatoes and onions were perfectly aligned. Grilled chicken danced across the center. A drizzle of dressing tied a bow around the top. It was a masterpiece and I was ready to present it.

I dropped it off on Jack's desk and took my seat next to him, pretending to focus as he passively glanced at my work of art. A few hours later, long after he finished eating, he turned to me and said "Nice salad, kid."

It was my first victory at Morgan Stanley, a ray of light in my otherwise dark days. I realized at that moment that Wall Street was a relationship business. Slaino, Tommy and then Jackson. Slowly but surely, I was gaining sponsorship.

Now, all I needed to do was produce.

As Fate Would Have It

While I was the second or third person on the trading floor each morning, I was the first person on the derivative desk. It was my responsibility to "write up" Chuck's positions and "pare them off" against each another.

Slowly, I was learning. Long stock and short call options were a "buy-write." Long calls and short stock were a "synthetic put." Long put and long stock were a "married put"

With the benefit of hindsight, it seems silly that the world's largest derivative desk had a clueless kid writing up the head trader's risk profile in T-accounts each morning. It's all the more ironic that despite fancy modern day risk management, the derivative machination would eventually implode under its own weight.

One morning while laboring through my daily ritual, a single red blinking light sprung to life. I wasn't supposed to pick up the Cramer wire as he was a customer. I looked at the clock; it was 6:00 AM. The blinking stopped. I was off the hook. And then it began again, and it didn't stop.

"Hello?"

The frenetic voice on the other end of the line didn't seem to notice that it was still dark outside.

"Heeeeeeey, what's going on?!?"

"This is Todd," I said, "Nobody's here yet."

"You new?" he asked, friendly enough but in a quickened pace, "We haven't met yet, I'm Cramer. Whataya think here? What's going on overseas? Do you like 'em? So… Whataya think?"

I looked toward the elevator banks but there weren't any traders around. I swallowed hard and offered an honest take. "I saw better buyers on the desk yesterday. The smarter accounts were getting long for a trade."

"So, do you like 'em?" he again asked, this time in a slightly less friendly tone. I didn't miss a beat. "Yeah, I like 'em."

"I like 'em too!!!" he shot back. Evidently, I had given him the answer he wanted to hear. "I gotta hop-they're gonna rip 'em today. Rip 'em!"
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