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Memoirs of a Minyan: Behind Closed Doors


The purpose of the journey is the journey itself.


Editor's Note: "Memoirs of a Minyan" is a first-person account that follows Minyanville founder Todd Harrison as he weaves his way through Wall Street and beyond. This e-Book will publish each Wednesday over 18 weeks. Click here to read previous Memoirs chapters.

Chapter 11: Behind Closed Doors

Nobody knows what was discussed during the hour Jim Cramer and Jeff Berkowitz huddled in Jim's office but time stood still as I watched them from the other side of the glass wall.

I had a serious heart-to-heart with Jeff the night after the Brocade (BRCD) tirade when Jim destroyed keyboards and threw an object at the door after I walked out. I told Jeff that I wasn't going to return the following year if Jim was there.

He wasn't surprised-the writing was on the wall since the end of the third quarter -- but that was the first time I put it out there. "I'll talk to him," he said at the time, "just relax and bring your A-game tomorrow."

Jeff is a good man who lives his life by example. He had more on the line than the rest of us combined, nine hard years of channeling information to Jim and quietly feeding his stardom.

Loyalty is a rare quality on Wall Street. Jeff lived it and I knew it. I suppose that, as much as anything, sat in the back of my mind as I waited for them to emerge from Jim's office.

The door flew open and Jim bound into the trading room at a quickened pace. At first, I couldn't tell if he was angry or ecstatic, apropos given the fine line that separate the two emotions in the man. He stepped up to the trading desk as a hush fell over the firm.

This was it, I thought, the moment of truth; the secret to our fortunes.

"I've made a decision," he said as the corners of his lips folded higher, "At the end of this year, I'm going to announce my retirement and hand the firm to Jeff."

My eyes connected with Berko as the pieces fit together in my head. Smart man, I thought to myself, but that I knew; he was the one that taught me the car crash analogy.

I assumed Jeff communicated his desire to step out from behind Jim's shadow and take his shot as the man in charge. I'm unsure of how large a role I played in Jeff's decision to have that discussion -- or in Jim's reaction -- but it didn't really matter.

Much like trading, all that counted was the bottom line.

Perception and Reality

As we discussed the dynamic internally, there was an underlying sense of relief. The mood was positive all around as we joked about Jim's place in history.

Gretzky, Elway, Jordan-Cramer.

He was a savvy spinner and knew he could leverage his track record into a successful media career. He publicly offered that he wanted to spend more time with his family and it seemed like the best possible scenario. He was happy. We were happy. It was perfect.

The initial euphoria morphed into a more pressing question. If Jim left the business, what would he claim when we whacked up the bonus pool? I was guaranteed a set percentage of the returns but given my relative contribution, I believed I was entitled to a larger slice of the profit pie.

After a string of lean years, I hit the lottery. It couldn't be happening again.

Could it?

We stopped trading for the final month of the year, sitting on a 36% gain while the rest of the Street swallowed sizable losses, and spent the majority of our time chewing through the legalities of transferring ownership of the firm to Jeff.

It happened fast but it couldn't happen fast enough.

I was excited for Jeff as he earned the right to helm his own operation. And I was excited for myself as I prepared to assume the role of President, a title previously held by Jim.

That, and a hefty guaranteed salary for two years, put me in a positive place as I sat with Jeff to discuss compensation for 2000. He assured me that I would be taken care of and true to his word, I was.

While Jim secured a chunk of change as his final payday on Wall Street, I netted close to $5 million, considerably more than I was contractually due.

A new era began at Cramer Berkowitz and I finally shook the monkey off my back.

I was finally on the other side of the cash register.

The Age of the Innocence

It's a rare occurrence on Wall Street when you can exhale, relax and enjoy your good fortune.

Such was a time as we entered 2001 with fresh energy and newfound zest. We earned a reputation as a shrewd and honest fund and we knew all the right people in all the right places. And I had coin in the bank, tangible validation for a hard fought career.

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