The Hunt for Red October

16-crash.jpgTwenty years ago today, I was sitting at my desk at the brokerage firm. It was my first year in the securities industry, and I had no idea that the price action unfolding before my eyes would be remembered as Black Friday. You know, the one before The Crash?

I had graduated from university the year before, and instead of heading straight into the business as my friends did, I did a tour of duty as a lending officer for six months until the bank sent me to a town at mile zero of the Alaska Highway. Ten days into that first post, while I was still holed up at the local hotel, I decided to organize an escape plan. I booked an “unauthorized” return flight, arranged for a taxi to pick me up, packed my things and feigned illness to avoid going into the branch.

As soon as my ride arrived, I was driven 200 miles to the next town and split. On the plane, I rehearsed a speech for my father. I knew he would be disappointed because he really wanted me to be a banker. But I had other plans.

Fast forward to yesterday. I was driving along when an interview with Jackie Mason aired on CBC Radio One [DOWNLOAD MP3]. Mason recounted how he became a rabbi when he was 25 years old. His father was a rabbi and all his brothers would become rabbis. But his calling was comedy.

For years after The Crash of ’87, my mother would call me whenever the market was down, whispering in hushed tones, “Are you OK for money?” Not wanting to explain how trading works, I did the same thing as Jackie Mason, promising to get a “real job” if trading did not pan out. She’s still waiting…

What she failed to recognize is that trading is a real job–when you work in the investment industry–that no one at Goldman Sachs is counting on trading profits to pay the rent. Hedge, mutual and pension fund managers all collect monthly fees. No one is sitting there, trading for free.

Mason also discussed compassion vs. honesty, how the white lie is a social lubricant. It might be kind to tell a bride on her wedding day that she looks beautiful even if she’s not, but sadly, this is inappropriate for the trading industry. People want to believe that they can leave their day job and “trade for a living”. What is not said is that people in the investment business only leave their day job when they can take a bigger cut of the fees heading their own firm. No professional would ever try running a management company on trading profits alone.

This is why I smiled when I read that Ugly is once again employed as a programmer. With no more worries about monthly living expenses, I am sure he will do well. Why? Because he can now trade the way it should be done, rather than trade under the gun.