I have always been a stock market junky. Getting out of college, it was my dream to get a job as a broker. I wanted to learn how to make money with money, invest for my own account, become wealthy and sit on the handlebars while everyone else peddled — admittedly, this ‘handlebar’ bit has been very illusive.
In pursuit of my dream, I got a job with a Kansas City-based regional member of the NYSE. I thought my timing could not have been better. The Dow Jones Industrials had peaked in 1966 at nearly 1000. By May of 1970 it had collapsed to a low of 600 on the news of the Penn Central Corporation’s bankruptcy. When I joined, October 1, 1970, the index stood at about 750. We had been in a bear market for four years. I thought we might have bottomed that May. WRONG!
The actual bottom was not until the fall of 1974. During those four years, many second and third tier stocks lost as much as 80 to 90 percent of their value. People hated stocks and stockbrokers. The fact that over the long-term stocks had been a wonderful store of value and hedge against inflation was of absolutely no interest. In hindsight, they should have been very interested.
To give you an idea of how bad it was here is a little tale from my fifth high school reunion. I met an old classmate who had opened a couple of somewhat-successful restaurant/bars. He asked what I was doing. When I replied that I was a stockbroker, he responded, “Why don’t you get a real job?”
The business was terrible. I was struggling on my $750/month draw against commissions — which were hard to come by. I was frustrated and ready for a change, ready to come in from out in the cold. At the time, working in a bank trust department, making $20,000/year, looked very appealing to me. Even though this would mean giving up the ‘sky’s the limit’ potential of the brokerage business and the autonomy of, for the most part, being your own boss.
But, I had had it. I began my search at the local banks. One, in particular, looked very promising. This was a smaller bank where I had developed a client relationship. One day the trust officer, who had been doing business with me, asked if I knew anyone who might be considering a move out of the brokerage business. He would be retiring and was looking to hire a replacement. Of course, I raised my hand.
Unfortunately (or fortunately), my life as a trust officer/portfolio manager was not to be. They hired someone else, a friend and colleague of mine. My friend was about five years older and really more qualified. But, that was OK, because we started doing more business with the bank. The sun continued to rise in the East. And, the market began to do better, much better.
In the final analysis, I really was not that qualified (either by temperament or skill set) to do the job, regardless of what my 27-year-old ego told me. Also, despite the struggles and hardship of those early years, it was the very best ever time to break into the investment business. I had a chance to see how awful it could be. Subsequently, I have seen how wonderful it could be.
So, I lost that job opportunity, but I gained wonderful 42-year career. I owe a debt of gratitude to those who rejected me. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!