The proper function of a man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them.

Jack London

Angela/Blanca/Bobby (my trading assistants): “Hey Geiger, put down the burrito and pick up Nally.”

Geiger: “What’s up, Pro?”

Nally: “Pro, you’re out as a massive buyer of XYZ. Take a hundred to travel and don’t screw it up.”

Nally. Just typing his name brings a smile to my face. Nally is man’s man blessed with a singular moniker. And a singular attitude.

Michael Nalevanko, a.k.a. Nally, has been a fixture on Wall Street for nearly four decades. A child of the 60’s and a graduate of Princeton University back when the Beatles were still in vogue, Nally took his bachelor’s degree in religion and headed straight for the cold-bloodiest cult he could find; good old American capitalism.

Planted at a desk in New York City at a time when you were as likely to get mugged by a cop as well as a thief, Nally began his career picking stocks as a security analyst for Pershing and Company. To say the decade of the 1970’s was a tough time to make money in the stock market is an understatement. Nixon, Vietnam, recession, Ford, stagflation, Carter; all conspired to put a lid on the market. Nally did his best to find investors pockets of value and growth, but he had better luck picking winners at Saratoga and Churchill Downs.

Ronald Reagan ushered in a new era of prosperity during the 1980’s, and Nally decided it was the perfect opportunity to lay some skin in the game. Repotted as a trader at both Arbitrage Securities and C.F. Partners, Nally rode the wave of the prosperous era, where greed was good and no appetite was ever too large. But New York City had morphed into a mine field of temptation as well as opportunity. Jay McInerney later wrote a famous book of the crazy, hedonistic times called “Bright Lights, Big City.” Nally actually lived it.

The “irrational exuberance” of the late 1990’s found Nally on the trading desk of Pilgrim Baxter & Co. in Valley Forge, PA. It was there I first came in contact with a man who seemed too well-educated to be a trader. Straightforward, professional, honest to a fault, and blessed with an all-too-uncommon knack on Wall Street for not taking himself too seriously, Nally and I hit it off like gin and tonic. We shared a lot of common interests, namely history, politics and golf, along with gambling, sports, wine and…well, let’s just say we shared a lot of interests. (fyi, Nally originated the term “Chateau de Expensive” after watching me navigate my way through a wine list at dozens of client dinners).

For ten years beginning in 1997, I arranged an annual mid-Atlantic sojourn for a half-dozen customers to a Penn State football game. Nally was at his best during these trips, holding court first at the makeshift poker table during the six-hour RV ride up to State College, then at the game-day tailgate party in the stadium parking lot, and finally at the post-game carousal inside the infamous Rathskeller bar near the coveted spot featuring a wall-mounted beer bottle opener conveniently located next to the women’s bathroom. Nally and I always shared a room on this trip, and truth be told there are just too many stories to tell. That being said, I’m forever grateful for the year he helped me find the RV that I somehow managed to lose (a story for another time). And Lord knows, I’ll never forget that night we stopped at a Taco Bell on our way back from a nightclub for a late-night snack and gave ourselves hernias because we laughed so hard (ok, perhaps another story for another time).

Nally eventually left Pilgrim for an opportunity at Chartwell Investment Partners, and over the next decade our trading friendship widened while trading spreads narrowed. We began calling each other “Pro” in reverence to a quirky caddie from the world-renowned Pine Valley Golf Club in southern New Jersey who called every major celebrity or big-moneyed hack he ever carried a bag for “Pro.” In a professional working environment such as Wall Street, where arrogance and chutzpah metastasizes with every bull market, and so many people you come in contact with consider themselves to be masters of the universe, calling each other “Pro” was our way of showing respect to the ordinary yet extraordinary “have-nots” of the world. We shared that in common too.

Wall Street is not usually the place to share one’s weaknesses. Nally, however, blessed with the noble virtue of not being able to lie very well, spent hours sharing with me his perceived faults and failures. I returned the favor, dispensing my own laundry list of personal misgivings, from spending WAY too much time at the blackjack tables in Las Vegas to leaving a successful Wall Street career so I could run a start-up motorcycle accessory company into the ground. But if Nally ever taught me anything, it’s that imperfection makes you stronger, and failure brings you wisdom. For that I am forever in his debt.

Today marks Nally’s official retirement from Wall Street. The industry will miss him, and I join the chorus of those lucky to know him who wish him well in his future endeavors. People like Nally, who defined an age and who worked hard and lived even harder, and who are proud to wear their struggles on their sleeves, have my utmost respect.

Good luck, Pro. I love ya.

One Response to Nally

  1. Lynn Champagne says:

    This sounds like the pros to a new novel…

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