Aspire to Inspire
This is about the important stuff, giving back and staying true to the person you are.
The holidays have arrived and with it, our annual self-reflection has begun. For many, 2007 will be measured by a bottom line that dictates whether we've invested wisely and prospered accordingly. Wall Street, for all its vice and virtues, is a place where self-worth is measured by net worth. Win, lose or draw, we know where we stand.
Make money and it was time well spent. Lose money and it was a lesson in the making.
We've dutifully chewed through the financial machination this year. From debt to the dollar to derivatives and stagflation to isolationism to nationalization, there's been much to discuss and plenty to debate. The Chinese have a saying, "may you live in interesting times," and so it is, we've now taken to importing proverbs from the Far East.
This column isn't about the next five percent, secular headwinds or geopolitical interpretation. I've spent countless hours writing about that and will continue to do so as we edge ahead. No, this missive is about a different kind of profitability, one that's not measured by the size of a house or the speed of a car. It's about the important stuff, giving back and staying true to the person you are.
It's a tale of love, respect, tribute and honor.
The Roots of Ruby
My dad left our family when I was three and my grandfather assumed his role. As fantastic as my mother was, devoting her life to her children, a young boy needs a man in his life to set the tone and set him straight. Ruby was that guiding hand throughout my childhood.
As I grew older, I would learn that everything happens for a reason. Divorce is unfortunate but it facilitated a bond that wouldn't otherwise exist. My grandfather's devotion was steadfast and empowering as we became best friends and he taught me how to be a man.
When I graduated college, I landed a job at Morgan Stanley but lacked the necessary means to afford an apartment. Further to that, the confidence that defined my Syracuse experience suddenly morphed into an exposed vulnerability. I needed a beacon in the night and a magnet for my moral compass. Lucky for me, I didn't have to look very far.
I lived in the den of my grandparent's home as I found my way. I was overwhelmed with trying to understand the ropes of a new livelihood but could always count on one thing. Every time I turned around, whenever I needed assurance, Ruby was there with a knowing glance and helping hand.
Years later, my grandmother Dorothy told me that my grandfather would sit in my room while I was at work and stare at my shoes. "He loved you so much," she said with a smile, "that he just wanted to be closer to you." This I knew, for as much as I write and as hard as I try, I've yet to find the words can aptly describe the love and loyalty that I carry to this day.
I was too naive to fully understand the golden door that opened for me when I started on Wall Street but what I lacked in wisdom was aided by guidance. And no matter how daunting my professional path seemed at the time, I was not about to let down the most important person in my life.
Earning stripes on the Morgan Stanley trading desk wasn't an easy task when you're twenty-one years old. We're talking old school Wall Street here, where money talked and nonsense walked. They say that nothing worth having ever comes easy. This is a lesson I would relearn many times over the course of my career.
I spent countless hours sitting with my grandfather as he espoused Rubyisms that transcend generations. All you have is your name and your word. What goes around, comes around. One hand washes the other. Think positive. Each struck a chord and lit the way, even if I didn't fully appreciate the magnitude of their meaning.
The next ten years passed in the blink of an eye. Morgan. Galleon. Cramer Berkowitz. Each step ushered in an entirely new set of challenges that made my previous place pale in comparison. And every time I stumbled, which happened far more often that I care to admit, Ruby was there to pick me up.
When the turn of the century arrived, I was navigating a $400 million portfolio through the biggest implosion in financial history. I began writing that summer and found rhythm and groove in the written word. It wasn't something I gave much thought to at the time but it came naturally and helped to synthesize my thoughts.
Someone had told me to write about what you know and what you love. The former was simple enough. The latter was a matter of fate.
Ruby became ill and was admitted to the Del Ray Beach Hospital. Each weekend, I traveled there so I could hold his hand while he struggled through his sickness. After a while, I shared with my readers why I needed to leave early every Friday. I wrote about my best friend, why he mattered and how very much I loved him.
An amazing thing began to happen. I received emails from around the world from people who had similar stories about grandparents, children, mothers, fathers and friends. There were ten at first. Then there were a hundred. In time, there were thousands. We read those tributes to Ruby while he laid in intensive care, one after another, month after month.
If so many strangers took time to write someone they had never met to express themselves to a man they had only heard about, I was certainly going to share whatever financial insights I had.
And so it began, our community was birthed before we knew where or how it would ever reside.
Letting Go and Carrying On
It was a random Wednesday in the spring of 2001 when I suddenly stopped trading and booked a flight. I sensed something was amiss and rather than wait for my regularly scheduled sojourn, I canceled my appointments and headed to Florida.
I arrived at the hospital, raced to his room, held his hand and whispered in his ear. Five minutes later, a rush of energy passed through my body as his eyes shut and his grip softened. It was his time and he passed on his terms, surrounded by family as per his wishes.
I should have been prepared for the pain but reality was harsh, as it tends to be. Letting go is one thing but navigating the world without a north star was a considerable adjustment. People deal with hardship in different ways. For me, that meant staying true to my word that I would take care of the family.
The summer of 2001 was a time of reflection and release as I climbed inside the twists and turns of the market. They say the greatest tribute you can pay to someone is living your life in a manner consistent with what he or she would have wanted. By the time Labor Day arrived, I had steadied myself and transitioned from a place of sadness to a state of celebration.
And that's precisely when the towers fell.
The autumn of 2001 planted seeds within us all that continue to sow with each passing day. I don't have the wisdom or clarity to profess how the events of 9/11 affected me but I began to question my lot in life. I remember looking in the mirror one morning and no longer recognizing the drawn, empty face that returned my dazed stare.
Soon thereafter, I arrived at a decision that I was going to take my life in a new direction. I launched the Ruby Peck Foundation for Children's Education and Minyanville with hopes of honoring my grandfather and affecting positive change through financial understanding. It was a world away from big money management but it was a place I knew I needed to be.
I didn't anticipate the workload, expenses, energy, hours or effort but each step was solid and each year grew stronger. Every mistake became a lesson. Each obstacle morphed into an opportunity. As we look forward to 2008, I'm happy to report that our global community has never been stronger.
Bringing it Home
In the current age of consumption and competition, giving back has taken a back seat to getting ahead. These are tough times as the chasm between the haves and the have nots continues to widen. What goes around comes around, as a wise man once said, so we're doing our part to affect positive change.
Next Friday, on December 7th, the Minyanville family will migrate to New York City to honor Ruby and reflect on our good fortunes. We will gather in force to share smiles, talk tape, cut rug, chow down and belly up. And at the end of the evening, a lot of children will be better off because of our collective efforts.
A dream is only as powerful as those who believe in it. That's why I wanted to step away from the tape and share this tale. We come to play every day and leave everything on the field. Sometimes, we need to take a moment to reflect on the past and leave our mark on the future.
May peace be with you.
Holiday Festivus is here! Come join us and support the Ruby Peck Foundation For Children's Education at an old-fashioned Southern-style hoe-down in the heart of New York City on December 7th. Click the image below to learn more!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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