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Aspire to Inspire

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If we're not part of the solution, we're part of the problem.

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"Inspiration, move me brightly. Light the song with sense and color, hold away despair." --Grateful Dead

The holiday season has arrived and with it our annual self-reflection has begun.

For many, 2009 will be measured by a bottom line that dictates whether we've invested wisely. Wall Street, for all its vices 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 chewed through the financial brew all year. From a nauseous nadir that almost broke the system to an enormous rally that defies gravity; there's much to discuss and plenty to debate.

The Chinese have a saying, "May you live in interesting times." And so it is; we're now 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 honor, respect, and tribute.

The Roots of Ruby

My dad left our family when I was three and my grandfather assumed his role. As fantastic as my mom 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 a hardship but it facilitated a bond that wouldn't otherwise exist. My grandfather's love was steadfast and empowering as we became best friends; he taught me how to be a man.

When I graduated college in 1991, I began a job at Morgan Stanley (MS) but lacked the means to afford an apartment. Further, the confidence that defined my Syracuse experience suddenly morphed into an exposed vulnerability as I attempted to learn a craft.

I needed a beacon in the night and a magnet for my moral compass. Lucky for me, I didn't have to look far.

I lived in the den of my grandparents' 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 steady hand.

Years later, my grandmother Dorothy told me that my grandfather sat in my room while I was at work and stared at my shoes. "He loved you so much," she said with a smile, "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 words to describe the love and loyalty I carry to this day.

I was too naive to understand the golden door that opened when I started on Wall Street -- or the cost it would exact through the years -- but what I lacked in wisdom was supplanted by guidance.

And no matter how daunting my professional path became, I was not about to let down the single most important person in my life.

Stair Steps

Earning stripes on the Morgan Stanley global equity derivative desk wasn't easy at 21 years old. We're talking old school Wall Street, where money talked and nonsense walked.

They say nothing worth having ever comes easy; I would relearn that lesson many times over the course of my career. I spent countless hours sitting with my grandfather as he espoused wisdom that transcends generations.

All you have is your name and your word.

What goes around comes around.

Time is the most precious of commodities.

Think positive.

Each struck a chord and lit the way, even if I didn't fully appreciate the magnitude of their meaning.

The next 10 years passed in the blink of an eye. Each step ushered in a new set of challenges that made my previous plateau pale in comparison. Every time I stumbled -- which happened often -- 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 in the written word. It wasn't something I expected but it came naturally and helped synthesize my thoughts.
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