Inspired by the recent return of some all-time great WSO members, we will begin featuring a series of posts from forum favorite 'superusers'. This "Then and Now" series will let people share a bit of their story through a handful of questions that touch on their career progression and how this site has supported that.
Expect posts over the next couple weeks from @CompBanker (link), @Frieds", @APAE" , @brotherbear", @Layne Staley", @CRE", @IlliniProgrammer", and if we're lucky, even @Eddie Braverman"
When did you first join WSO?
Can't exactly recall,I know I was lurking post-GFC, but don't think I became active until 2013 or so
Why did you join?
I was wanting to get intel on jumping to the buyside from PWM, and I'd just gotten rejected from b-school (two schools that aren't even top 50)
Where were you in your career then?
I was in a dead end job in admin for PWM (one of those jobs called client associate/client service associate, glorified secretary basically), and I always dreamed of running money either long only value equity (I'm a buffett disciple) or moving to SoCal and trying my hand at fixed income at PIMCO, TCW, etc. (fat chance, right?)
Where are you in your career now?
I'm now a financial advisor on a decent sized team within one of the big 3 firms (Merrill/Morgan/UBS) somewhere in the southeastern USA, we manage $6-700mm in assets, and I'm one of 3 equity partners
What can you share about your personal or family life?
I grew up at the beach (again, SE USA), fucked around for most of my scholastic career until late in college, and I think part of that is because I never had any role models who were hustlers. My dad was in banking but he never talked about work, and part of me also think he underperformed his potential because he didn't want to uproot the family, he moved several times as an adolescent and hated his parents for it, so he turned down lots of promotions. And my other family members either worked in government or in cushy, lazy jobs, no one ever more than 40 hours a week. I didn't get scared straight until one of my frat bros got into investment banking and I saw how much hustle it took to actually get somewhere in life. I'd thought that you just get a degree and the world unfolds itself for you (HAH). So he taught me how to hustle, how to get informational interviews, and passed along lots of wisdom on finance, and introduced me to WSO.
More on the personal stuff, I'm married, no kids. Love travel, sports, and the occasional mind expanding herbal supplement.
Looking back on your career, is there anything that you thought you knew starting out which turned out to be wrong?
So many things. For one, that you had to have rich family members to make it in PWM. That you had to go to a good school to become financially independent (it's not necessary, those schools just do a better job at laying out a "path" for you. That it's easy to beat the market. That it's easy to make it in sales (PWM is sales, let's face it). I think I told myself a lot "this is going to be hard" but because I didn't work really hard ever in my life (life kinda always went my way until college), I didn't know what "hard" was. I didn't know what it felt like to make hundreds of cold calls all day every day, get nowhere, and then have to go back to a post-college frat house when all of my friends are making substantially more money than me. I thought I knew what "hard" was, and while I have it very easy relative to others, I'm glad I got that kick in the pants.
Were there any opportunities that presented themselves along the way that you didn't take? With the benefit of hindsight, do you wish you had taken one of them?
I got the opportunity years ago to manage a single family office and potentially make $300k a year (I was in my mid 20s). I turned it down, and I'm glad I did. Looking back, I made the right choice because the patriarch of the family office probably would've fired anyone, he was a control freak and impossible to please. I chose long term growth over high current income, and looking at what my retired partners' finances are like, that was the right call. Just like a business with diversified customers, I didn't want my income dependent upon one person's mood.
What do you think has made you successful in your career? Are there any particularly interesting or unique challenges that you've faced along the way?
By comparison's sake, I'm not successful. I've avoided getting fired, but I'm not top 10 on Barron's advisor lists or anything, and I don't know that I'll ever get there (very few outside of major cities ascend those ranks). What I think has helped me in my career are a few random principles.
1) Never burn a bridge. I take Dale Carnegie's wisdom to heart. Always try to leave every interaction positively, and if you can't do that, politely exit. When you're working with people, don't burn a bridge. I'm not saying you need to be friends with coworkers (quite the contrary, my business life and my private life are completely separate), but you do need to be able to call on someone in 5 years when you need something and have them remember you in a positive light. This has helped me tremendously.
2) Think long term. As I mentioned before, I've turned down lucrative current income opportunities because I didn't see the long term sustainability of those careers. If you looked at my W2s from age 22-28, you'd wonder what I was even doing on WSO. I am grateful I delayed gratification because I'll never have to look for another job in my life. I'm at the firm where I can comfortably retire. Our clientele and revenue streams are steady, I am getting increasing shares of equity as time rolls on (more equity in a good business = more income), and because I'm not constantly looking for the next opportunity, I'm not stressed. I say this knowing that's not feasible for a lot of you, but if you find yourself between a short term payday and a long term payday that starts out small, consider the long term. Just like in investing, careers have compound interest too, and it pays off.
3) Constant improvement. I always look at what I can get better at in life, prioritize those things, and then make a plan of attack. This is not just for career stuff, it's personal too. Everything from a new bench press max to learning a language (necesito que estudiar mas) to long distance running, I'm always trying to get better. This is not to say I self deprecate, but it's an honest assessment of where my weak spots are, what's a priority for me at the moment, and then discipline and repetition until the mission's accomplished. If you adopt a mindset of constant improvement, you'll never be bored, and you'll learn a lot about yourself. It will also help you grow in your career. You've crushed your analyst, associate, and MBA shit and are now in PE? Great! What do you know about leadership? What do you know about sales? What do you know about relationship management? Plenty to learn. Oh, you're a burgeoning Frank Quattrone, knowing everything about deals, rolodex that anyone would envy, and are financially independent beyond your wildest dreams? Still work to do, how good of a teacher are you? How good of a mentor are you? Are you doing enough to lift up and educate the next generation? If you're good at that, look at #4 and work on the other parts of your wheel. Nobody's perfect, but you can continuously strive for improvement.
4) Balance/Perspective. Contrary to what most 19-22 year olds on WSO think (I was in this camp once), money and career are not the most important things in life. I stumbled upon this concept via a partner of mine called the "Total Person." the idea is this - just like a wheel can't properly move with one of the spokes bent or spiking out longer than the others, your "wheel of life" must also have balance. The areas are: financial/career, family/home, physical/health, spiritual/ethical, mental/educational, and social/cultural. There were times I focused too much on my career to the detriment of my friendships and relationships (a tough sales environment can be very distracting), so I went back to this wheel concept, called up some old buddies, and mended the strains of getting out of touch. I succumbed to depression a couple of times, and spirituality and reaffirming my values helped me with that. The idea is not that you spend equal parts of your life working on each "spoke of the wheel," the idea is that anytime you're dissatisfied with something in your life, look to your wheel. Where are you weak? Where are you strong? This reflection will help you become more of a total person, and as a result, happier.
5) Empathy/kindness. If you look back at some of my WSO history, there are a lot of things I probably said out of anger, annoyance, or just to be funny at the expense of someone's feelings. I can be a jerk sometimes, and I used to think that was excusable so long as I was liked by the people I cared about. I don't think that's a good way to live, and while I have a hard time showing empathy when my gut reaction is "you're just lazy," leading with kindness, forgiveness, and empathy has been really helpful to my psyche and realizing my faults in this department has caused me to be more kind in general to people. That rude hostess at the restaurant you're going to get takeout from after a 16 hour day? Maybe she just got yelled at by her mom for a bad grade and her boyfriend is being a prick and she's just 17 years old and can't cope, cut her some slack if she's short with you on the phone. The guy on customer service for your bank when you're travelling abroad and trying to get a transaction approved even though, yes, you followed protocol, let them know of the trip, and the service in Fiumicino is so shitty you can barely understand him, doesn't help that English is his third language, you have every right to be upset...internally. You have no idea what that person is going through. This also helps when you're working on teams, particularly if you're in charge. Lose the entitlement, lead with patience, lead with kindness, and try to remain calm, it just might help your life.
6) Curiosity. It may have killed the cat, but it helped this bro. Before you have your career figured out longer term, ask questions. It's not playing dumb if it's genuine, get perspective on things that you lack because of your age/inexperience. Most of the best lessons I've learned are not written down anywhere, they're ingrained in me and I wouldn't have learned a lot of what makes me who I am if I wasn't curious. Subtle things, like "I noticed you asked this question to the prospect this way and they reacted positively, what was that?" or "I know we're trying to accomplish XYZ for this client, can you walk me through how you figured out this solution?"
7) Discipline. Meeting me, you wouldn't think twice about me. Average height, bald, average intelligence, and below average education. What I have that not everyone (particularly in PWM) has is discipline. I never miss an appointment, never return a call late, never show up late, and will outwork my competition in every way imaginable. I think success is some combination of hard work and luck, and while I do believe in luck, I think that hard work opens up more opportunities for lucky breaks thus skewing the odds in your favor. If you lack intelligence, a network, you're gonna have to work harder, but that's completely within your control, and too many people in the world (not just finance) do not work hard. I know that there's nothing earth shattering about my PWM career, but I do know that the other people who didn't make it had the same or better backgrounds to me, they just didn't do the work. So stay hard, kiddies.
8) Via Negativa. I started a thread on this that went nowhere, but basically the concept is called "addition by subtraction," and it was coined by the Black Swan author Nassim Taleb. The idea is that instead of adding things to your life for improvement, cut out shit you don't need. Do you spend too much time with negative people? Cut them out of your life. Overspending? Cut out expenses (usually quicker than getting a raise). Have a bad habit? Instead of trying to add a healthy habit straight away, cut out some of your bad ones.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
I think I've said too much already, so all I'll say is if I can help anyone personally or professionally with advice, insight, etc., I'm glad to do it.