Geiger Out (mic drop)

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

2 Timothy 4:7

My first day as a Wall Street trader was August 4, 1986, a sweltering summer Monday in Midtown Manhattan. If you had said to me back then that my last day as a Wall Street trader would be on a pleasant Friday…June 30, 2017 to be exact…in idyllic Orinda, California, I would have said you were in desperate need of professional help.

But that’s exactly what is happening.

That’s right, folks. I’m outta’ here. History. Finished. Toast. One week from today, my career as an institutional equity sales trader is officially over. After 30 years of hitting bids and taking offers, the Fat Lady has finally sung.

It’s been some ride.

My recollections of that first day still resonate. I nervously shuffle about in a far-off corner of the cavernous First Boston equity trading floor, witnessing a riotous scene more remindful of D-Day than a professional work environment. Dressed in my best Brooks Brother blue, engulphed by rivulets of sweat, I witness a hundred or so seasoned masters of the universe, many of whom look like regulars at the freakish Mos Eisley Cantina from the original Star Wars flick, fling paper tickets across the smoke-filled room like so many Frisbees, convinced by their whooping and hollering that each one was convertible into a winning lottery ticket. With every sense of my body working overtime to absorb the action, one thought pranced through my 26-year-old head; this looks like fun!

Fast forward thirty years. A handful of scruffy traders, most younger than the underwear in my drawer, fix vacuous stares upon their computer screens. The only sound one hears is the muted hum of florescence, interspersed with hollow pings announcing incoming orders or executed trades. No one smokes, no phones ring, and the only chatter in the room emanates from the talking heads on CNBC. Meanwhile, scores of customer orders, involving thousands of shares and millions of dollars, trade with every fresh click of a mouse. Welcome to Wall Street 2017.

Zzzzzzzzzzz…

A confluence of factors coalesced to make retirement a reality, but the single biggest reason for my decision to exit stage left is this; the business of institutional stock trading just isn’t as much fun as it used to be. I’m not breaking new ground here, as anyone who has been in the industry prior to the advent of electronic trading will tell you. Yet for many a morning over the past few years, I’ve stood before my bathroom mirror wearing nothing but a fig leaf, trying to convince myself that there was more to life than accessing the latest dark pool so I can possibly outperform the VWAP, a trading benchmark called Volume Weighted Average Price, which means…oh, who gives a shingle.

Moreover, the lifeblood of the business, the requisite thick-as-thieves relationship forged between broker and customer, receded with the arrival of instant messaging and the electronic order management system. And let’s not forget the extinction of the superfluous, bacchanalian expense account, where Super Bowl tickets and magnums of Opus One have been replaced by bagels and coffee. That alone did as much to kidnap the feverish joy from the business as anything borne of technology. Do the math and the answer is obvious; Geiger (I rarely hear my first name), it’s time to move on.

So, what are we waiting for? Let the party begin.

I leave the trading desk with my head held high. I didn’t cure cancer, make a better sneaker, or invent the next Facebook. But I’m confident I did one thing well; I earned the trust of my customers. It’s a tired but true cliché, that the art of selling begins when the customer says, “lose my number.” The following is a sample set of speed bumps I encountered over a three-decade career;

  • “I can’t stand First Boston.”
  • “I wish we didn’t have to trade with Montgomery.”
  • “We prefer someone else cover us from Robertson Stephens.”
  • “Why would we ever do business with JMP?”
  • “What’s a Penserra?”

The raw numbers suggest I overcame those obstacles, but the yardstick I prefer to measure whatever success I’ve had is this; after thirty years of fabricating stories, swapping lies, playing way too much golf and draining an ocean of wine, I consider many of my customers, be they traders, portfolio managers, administrative assistants, or back office staff, to be close, personal friends. It was a marriage based on mutual respect, of both the job and the person. I’d love to take this opportunity to mention each of them by name, but two things prevent me from doing so. One, I live in fear of forgetting to name someone (or worst, forgetting their name). And two, I get misty-eyed every time I try. And for the record, the fact these magnanimous individuals helped pay for my house, my kid’s college, and my two tickets to paradise has nothing to do with how I feel about them. Well, maybe a little.

Thirty years of late night business escapades followed by mandatory 4:00am wake ups have taken their toll on my psyche. I’ll be the first to admit, I went after it. HARD! And I’ve got the cartoonish stories and wounded liver to prove it. Here are just a few tales that I’m able to repeat (or, more accurately, remember);

  • I owned Richmond, Virginia during the late-1980’s, only to be fired over the phone by a floundering First Boston while cooling my heels at a Richmond airport motel.
  • You haven’t lived until you’ve won a raffle for a used (yes, used) 12” black and white television at the Alabama Traders convention. Or played beach volleyball for the Carpetbaggers at the North Carolina Traders. Or closed Traps for the umpteenth time at the San Francisco Traders.
  • For my first thirty months at Montgomery Securities, I finished D.F.L. (dead freaking last) in monthly commissions, a result that was published for everyone to snicker at. Over the ensuing six months, I helped cross the largest block of stock and bring in the biggest new account the firm had seen to that point. Montgomery CEO Thom Weisel was so impressed he shook my hand at my year-end review and said, “Nice job, Les.”
  • I took the reins and hosted highbrow client events at The Wynn in Las Vegas, The Lodge at Pebble Beach, and at The Masters in Augusta, GA. That seems like seven bull markets ago. Because it was.
  • For years I was the designated RV cruise director for an annual college football boondoggle at Penn State, and I took full responsibility the year our RV was towed away for bad behavior.
  • Steve Jobs shook my hand on the day of Pixar’s IPO, a trade that netted him over $1 billion. We shook hands again six hours later after he lost a quarter-billion dollars. His demeanor never changed.
  • I once spontaneously flew to London after the stock market closed to put out a fire with an important client, and promptly returned to the airport so we could trade millions of shares the next day. He paid me ten cents a share, which barely covered the after-dinner rounds of Château d’Yquem.
  • Jim Cramer fired me off his hedge fund before he became Jim Cramer.
  • For over a decade, clients joked that I looked like a walking cherry tomato while wearing my member’s red jacket at Caves Valley Golf Club. My standing rule when it came to taking guff from customers was this; they could call me anything they wanted, so long as they paid me. Thankfully, they did.

In three decades of following financial markets as though my life depended on it, because it did, I witnessed a slew of asset bubbles burst into goo, mind-blowing market rallies fueled by the apocalyptic mantra of “it’s different this time.” Black Monday. The Japanese asset meltdown that began in 1991. The Asian financial crisis of 1997. The Dot-com debacle. The housing bust of 2007. The financial panic of 2008-9. The flash crash of 2010. Here’s some breaking news, folks. Despite today’s relentless Trump Pump, stocks do not move forever in a straight line. Unless, of course, you believe it’s different this time. (FYI, during my career the total S&P 500 return, including dividend reinvestment, comes to 1820%, an annual return of 10.1%)

Speaking of volatility, the favorite topic of any red-blooded trader, allow me to spotlight the following. The worst day of my career (aside from 9/11) was when my boss at Robertson Stephens told me during my year-end review that not only was I being denied a full partnership, but that I was also “a personal and professional disappointment.” The best day of my career happened a mere two months later, when I defied the odds and returned to the Transamerica Pyramid as the first and only trading professional ever rehired by Montgomery Securities. At four-times my previous compensation, no less. If I learned one lesson on Wall Street over the course of my career, it’s that, like Vegas, your fortunes can change that fast.

But let’s be real; working on a raucous trading floor wasn’t always a slice of heaven. I’ve been screamed at, and had both my intelligence and manhood questioned, by a cavalcade of Hall of Fame traders (female as well as male…and there is certainly nothing wrong with that). But that’s part and parcel of what made the business of trading so thrilling; the passion of the negotiation, the clock-ticking pressure, the daily give and take banter of the locker room. The financial markets were insane, and so were the participants. The frenetic pace of floor trading was intoxicating, compelling both buy and sell side players to set their hair on fire and challenge each other while doing it. Man, how I miss those days.

And now for some words of thanks.

I want to thank my colleagues-in-crime, especially those who sat me down at the end of every year to tell me how much I was worth. I’ve always believed that when it comes to building a successful career, you can’t reach your true potential without a sponsor, a cheerleader ready to rally on your behalf. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank those who played a significant role allowing me to have, and keep, a seat at the Wall Street buffet; Thom Young, Mike Butkus, Bob Kahan, Jim McMahon, Chris McLellan, Scott Kovalik, Mark Lehman, Craig Johnson, and Robert Goddard.

I owe a million thanks to all the market makers, trading assistants, operational and administrative staff who received paychecks from the same place as me. A trading floor is like a beehive, and it’s only effective if it works as a team. I specifically want to give a shout-out to my more-than-able assistants during my heyday at Bank of America Securities, when I actually was a somebody; Angela Joyner, Blanca Gutierrez, and Bobby Olsen. You were the best, and we sure had fun while it lasted.

I’d like to extend a special thank you to George Madrigal, Founder and CEO of Penserra Securities, and hands down the best manager I’ve ever had the privilege of working for. I informed George in May of my plan to retire, and he suggested I consider an alternative course of action; a leave of absence. Doing so would allow me to retain all my licenses, as well as keep me in the bullpen should down the road Penserra require my services in a non-trading capacity. George’s idea was brilliant and allowed me to depart on my own terms. I’m forever grateful, and if you know Señor Madrigal, his generosity comes as no surprise.

Lastly, I wish to thank my family, especially The Pretty Blonde. I’d be stacking bags of fertilizer somewhere if it wasn’t for her. She put up with my interminable travel and entertainment routine, and kept me humble whenever I needed a swift kick in the tush. Anne has always believed in me and allowed me to be myself, an absurdity I’ve spent half a lifetime trying to figure out. She’s also the one giving me the green light to walk away from trading, confident I’ll expand my duties as her personal Cabana Boy.

So, what’s next? A wise man once told me, “it’s better to retire to something, rather than from something.” My standard line, because I’m 57 and not dead, is “I’m retiring, not retired.” I honestly have no clue what “next” is, but something deep inside my soul believes the end of my trading career is just the beginning of something I haven’t even discovered yet. Then again, it could be indigestion.

There you have it, folks. To conclude, there’s only one thing left for me to say.

Geiger out. (mic drop)

 

p.s. I’ll continue penning The Marginal Prophet for the foreseeable future, even though everyone’s heard all my stories. Tune in next week for the Geiger-ized version of my resume, my first update in decades. I think you’ll like it.

23 Responses to Geiger Out (mic drop)

  1. Michele Poirier says:

    CongratulationS Lee, wishing you all the best in your next journey! Mmp

  2. Susan says:

    Wow – congratulations, Geiger! You were the one of the best, ever! Many memories you just invoked of crazy times!

  3. robert goddard says:

    it seemed like a good idea at the time. And for 30 years it was. Take another 250. Get me Bobby Kahan! You’re out as. I used to be a member here. The business will never be the same wothout you. Thanks for many great years and a great partnership.

  4. Keith Dager says:

    Good run! Still some rocket fuel left in you Enjoy life! Write another book!

  5. Priapus says:

    Interesting. Now get bsck out there snd sell….SeLL….SELLLLLL Winthorp.

    Congratulations. It’s a living….but it ain’t living. Enjoy what’s next, whatever that might be

  6. Priapus says:

    Interesting.

    Now get back out there and sell….SeLL….SELLLLLL Winthorp.

    Congratulations.

    It’s a living….but it ain’t living. Enjoy what’s next, whatever that might be

    • Lee Geiger says:

      Thanks, Michael. The thought of being a piano player at a strip club has crossed my mind, but I’d have to learn how to play first. Or dance.

  7. Belle Yang says:

    Moving tributes, especially the one to Anne. We’ve been friends for a number of years and I feel as if I too am leaving for a new destination. You’ve grown into one heck of a fine human being: that’s no small accomplishment.

  8. Jim Geiger says:

    What’s important is your at peace with your decision. On to your next adventure. Bro, Jim….

  9. Jeff Spears says:

    Your humility is refreshing! Can’t wait to see what is next. GREAT traders know when to move on and you are a GREAT trader.

    • Lee Geiger says:

      Thanks, Jeff. That’s very kind of you to say. I can only hope my career timing is better than my stock timing. That sale I made in AAPL in 2009 isn’t looking so good. I hope you’re happy and healthy, and please do stay in touch.

  10. linda schoff says:

    Congrats Lee! You were my favorite sales trader to work with at RSSF! Enjoy your next chapter!

  11. jeff arce says:

    Mr. Geiger, I recall walking the streets (or parks) of San Francisco a few years back (one of the few visits together we’ve had since the early 80’s)discussing retirement and the potential and frequency, thereof. I predict that you’ll be back and that your “next” will be amazing. Come do the hula with me. I’ll teach you…

    • Lee says:

      Thanks, Jeff. I do remember those chats. Which, of course, begs the question; when are you going to retire?

      Tell you what. I’ll cash in that chit for hula lessons if you take me up on visiting a winery or two in Napa.

      Best,
      Lee

      • Jeff says:

        I’m ‘semi’ now. 1/2 step out.
        Napa here I come. I know how to drink wine. I don’t know how to hula… so it’s a good trade.

  12. Good choice Lee- congrats!

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