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Memoirs of a Minyan: War Games


The purpose of the journey is the journey itself.

The reunion was a long time in the making; it was then I realized that the longer you wait for dinner, the better it tastes.

The Driftwood and the Perfect Storm

The year 2001 was painful but 2003 made it look like a walk in the park. I was spread thin, trying to keep four balls in the air and scrambling for redemption, tangible or otherwise.
The harder I tried to find my footing, the deeper I fell into the crevasse of despair.

As the markets ripped higher, my losses delved into double-digit territory. It was the mirror image of the 2000 scrimmage and that fact wasn't lost on me.

The cycle of life, I thought to myself; the other side of the cash register.

My money was in the fund, losing value alongside the capital that investors entrusted to me. That, coupled with substantial investments in Minyanville and the Ruby Peck Foundation, chewed through my life's savings.

I huddled with my advisors and looked at what was left in the till. When I started the year, I had millions of dollars in the bank. I watched that evaporate, expecting the tide to turn.

I was a piece of driftwood in a perfect storm and it was clear that decisions needed to be made -- if I tried to keep all of my efforts afloat, everything would drown at once.

There was palpable heartache, not in the proverbial sense but in an absolute one. I visited a cardiologist frequently, certain that the pain my chest was a foreboding sign.

"Take care of yourself," he told me, "get some exercise and stop putting so much pressure on yourself."

I tried to tell him about the metaphorical critters named Hoofy and Boo that were going to affect positive change through financial understanding but he didn't seem to care. He was more concerned about my ability to physically continue. In my mind, death was the only thing that could possibly stop me.

Minyanville, while loyal, was still a small community. Our mission of provoking thought and providing vicarious education through a shared process -- as opposed to offering outright advice to a faceless audience -- was a departure from traditional media and unconventional in an immediate gratification world.

With each passing day, the piece of driftwood took on a more water. With each wave of losses, my breath became more labored. I was so focused on conventional measures of success that I lost sight of why I started Minyanville in the first place. I lost sight of who I was.

I had to make difficult decisions as I edged towards the end of 2003. They weren't decisions of choice; they were decisions of need. The business that was supposed to underwrite my existence and the one that sustained my soul couldn't co-exist if I hoped to survive another year.

If you do what you love, the money would come. That's what I told myself that when I stepped down as president of a $400 million hedge fund.

The sad truth was there wasn't much left.

The Fork in the Road

I huddled with my advisors and tried to identify a solution. Given the cash burn in Minyanville, they told me I would be insolvent in a matter of months. It had been almost a full year since I decided to create a symbiotic ecosystem and the well was almost dry.

I spent countless hours trying to map strategies that would allow my dream to survive. My team believed in me but they were lucid and pragmatic; they saw how fragile I was, a shadow of the once powerful hedge fund master who moved markets and made millions. I was running on fumes and everyone knew it. "What are you going to do?" they asked as I studied my bank statements, hoping they would change.

"I'm not going to abandon Minyanville," I told them, knowing full well it wasn't an option, "I've still got money hidden away and I'll use that until we succeed."

They sat in silence staring at me.

"Build it and they will come," I said in my best Kevin Costner voice, trying to convince myself I knew something they didn't, but they weren't as optimistic. I was bleeding from every orifice, day after day and night after sleepless night. They were right but I didn't see another option.

"If I'm going down, I'm going down with my best one-two punch and those are Minyanville and The Ruby Peck Foundation."

I spoke with my investors throughout 2003 and the final call didn't come as a surprise. They knew the risks before they invested but that did little to quell my guilt, shame and pain. I let them down and lost them money, an unavoidable reality that haunts me to this day. For some strange reason, having most of my money in the fund made me feel better, not worse.

I closed the doors, returned the remaining money and booked the largest loss of my professional career. It remains the single biggest black mark on the name and word of Todd Harrison, a painful and embarrassing chapter in my life. The road to recovery would be long and I had to power the engine with a small reserve fuel tank.

If I ran out of gas, I knew there would be nobody left to tow me home.


Keep an eye out for next week's chapter of Memoirs of a Minyan.

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