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Wall Street is a funny business. All you have is your reputation. Taint it and someone else will fill your shoes. Longevity comes from maintaining that reputation.
Ask Jack Grubman, the All-Star telecom analyst from Salomon Smith Barney; uber-banker Frank Quattrone at CS First Boston; Morgan Stanley's Mary "Queen of the Net" Meeker; or Merrill Lynch's Henry Blodget.
Well, they probably won't tell you anything. But have I got some great stories for you.
Successful hedge fund manager Andy Kessler looks back on his years as an analyst on Wall Street and offers this cautionary tale of the intoxicating forces loose in the world of finance that overwhelmed sober analysis.
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About the Author
After turning $100 million into $1 billion riding the technology wave of the late 1990s, Andy Kessler recounted his experiences on Wall Street and in the trenches of the hedge fund industry in the books Wall Street Meat and Running Money (and its companion volume, How We Got Here). Though he has retired from actively managing other people's money, he remains a passionate and curious investor. Unable to keep his many opinions to himself, he contributes to the Wall Street Journal, Wired, and lots of Web sites on a variety of Wall Street and technology-related topics, and is often seen on CNBC, FOX, and CNN. He lives in Silicon Valley like all the other tech guys.
Read an Excerpt
Wall Street Meat
My Narrow Escape from the Stock Market Grinder
Right 51% of the Time
I dialed the phone number in the ad.
"Hello, Research," said the woman on the other end of the line.
"Huh???" I thought. "Research?"
"If you could be so kind, may I speak with Robert Cornell, please?" I can turn on polite in a hurry.
"He's gone for the day. May I take a message?"
"Have him call Andy Kessler at this number, and by the way, research where?"
Now I had seen the Thank You Paine Webber commercials with Jimmy Connors but had no clue what Paine Webber even was. No problem, I'll figure it out tomorrow. It's 1985 and I'm 26 and in no rush.
Bob called back the next morning. He had a deep exotic, take-charge phone voice. He grilled me on my background, and then asked when we could meet. I was headed into Manhattan from my house in New Jersey to meet with a head-hunter who placed programmers and tech people in temporary assignments. I could meet for lunch.
I decided to wear the best clothes I had. A maroon shirt, navy blue wool tie and double knit Haggar slacks. No jacket. It was very early Geek Chic, circa 1985. I ran into a college friend on 51st and 6th Avenue, who asked me where I was headed. "An interview at Paine Webber." He gave me one of those you-dumb-shit looks. "Dressed like that?"
OK, so I was a dumb-shit, and now a self-consciously underdressed one. At 1285 Avenue of the Americas, I took the elevator up to the ninth floor and headed to the receptionist. Behind me, a door opened briefly. I caught a glimpse of a whole roomful of people who were yelling at each other and into phones. What a strange place. The reception area was filled with the worst art I had ever seen, ugly contemporary pieces that had probably been drawn by three-year-olds.
"Hi, I'm Bob Cornell," the surprisingly short and smallish Bob Cornell said, with that same deep phone voice I had heard the day before. As he pumped my hand, his eyes slowly looked me over from my face down to my shoes (did I mention my ugly brown Florsheims?) and back up. He had this funny smile on his face that I would later realize was an I-think-I-just-found-what-I was-looking-for look.
"C'mon in, let me introduce you to a couple of guys who are joining us for lunch. Steve, Jack, let's go."
A somewhat round, well-dressed, light-haired guy came over first and said hello with a British accent. "This is Steve Smith, he is the number one computer analyst on Wall Street."
The next guy was wearing a three-piece suit, with jet-black hair combed back and a pointed, almost sinister-looking beard. He said hello with a Philly accent, an almost Rocky Balboa-like "yo." "This is Jack Grubman, our hot telecom analyst. Like you, he used to work at AT&T."
It was the start of a very wild ride.
Bob Cornell moved things along. "Let's head over to Ben Benson's. It's across the street and we can talk there." The four of us headed down the elevator and crossed 52nd Street. As we queued up at the Maitre d's station, Bob Cornell remarked to chuckles from Steve and Jack, "I hope they don't have a dress code in here."
We gorged on Flintstone brontosaurus burger-sized steaks. I had just spent the last five years of my working life at Bell Labs, the research arm of AT&T, spending huge amounts of ratepayers' money. I had designed chips, written lots of software for graphics workstations, installed million-dollar mini-computer systems. But AT&T was in the midst of maximum change. The breakup took place in 1982. I needed out.
I went through my electrical engineering background, the stuff I did at Bell Labs, and what I thought about computers and PCs and modems and fiber optics. It was time to go in for the kill. "I'm not really the corporate type. What you guys really need is a consultant like me." I meant to say it as a statement but ended up with the inflection of a question.
Bob jumped in, "We don't need no stinkin' consultants. We need an analyst, someone to follow the semiconductor industry." I wasn't sure what he meant.
I spent the next two hours telling them that I wasn't kidding; I really wasn't the corporate type. I didn't even own a suit, didn't know a thing about financials, only about technology. I must have struck a nerve. All three launched into a coordinated attack, convincing me to take the job as an analyst, a job I didn't even know existed until that morning.
The more I protested, the more adamant they were. It was a great negotiating technique. I wish I had thought of it ahead of time and done it intentionally, but I really was clueless. I occasionally wake up in a cold sweat worrying about the consequences had I been more convincing as a slacker that day.
Wall Street is filled with analysts, covering every imaginable industry. Oil analysts, retail analysts, beverage container analysts, auto analysts, insurance analysts, ad nauseum. A rip-roaring bull market had started in August 1982, and the hot stocks were those in technology -- computers, semiconductors, and telecom. The old-line analysts who had been around for ten years waiting for this bull market to start were experts at IBM but not much else. IBM was half the computer industry's sales and 90% of their profits. But the bull market brought with it a boom in initial public offerings, IPOs, in 1983 ...Wall Street Meat
My Narrow Escape from the Stock Market Grinder. Copyright © by Andy Kessler. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.