All right! You got a job on Wall Street. Way to go. Welcome aboard. If history is any guide, you’re wicked smart, a great athlete and know somebody. Or any combo of the above. Don’t matter. You got the job. Feels good, right? When you got the offer, you were probably as pumped as Will Ferrell in Semi-Pro, “Yes! Give me ten Norton! Everyone can eat s***! A big bag of s***! Ha ha ha! I'm the greatest man in the world! Whoo!”
OK. Not so fast. All you got was a ticket to the dance. Now what? You’re set for life, right? Uh, well…not really. Actually, far from it. Since its near-death experience in 2008, Wall Street has been mutating into something far different than its fabled land of golden dreams.
But so what? You got the job. And you’re going to be overpaid. And making more than almost every single one of your friends with real jobs. But don’t get smug, not yet anyway. The trick is not landing on Wall Street, it’s staying on Wall Street and excelling on Wall Street and staying overpaid for a long, long time.
This is not your father’s Wall Street where any bumbling idiot could (and did) answer phones all day and pull in six figures. I used to work with them. Now, it’s nasty out there. Harder than it’s ever been. It’ll chew you up and spit you out like nothing you’ve ever experienced. That’s OK. I assume your tough enough. Just be ready for it.
So you should just hunker down and do as you’re told, right? WRONG. If you sit on your ass and do all the things your hemorrhoid-annoyed boss tells you to do, you’ll end up a doormat and stepped on and replaced when the newer, prettier version comes along. You’ve got to make a name for yourself. Stand out. Become indispensible.
Who am I to tell you all this? Well, I spent 20+ years on Wall Street and though I can’t profess to know everything, I’ve seen a lot. And I’ve been involved in a lot of crazy things - I was a research analyst, a not very good investment banker, a venture capitalist and ran a $1 billion hedge fund. And just when I think I’ve seen it all, something even more bizarre hits. It’s hard to keep a level head. But a strong gut and steady resolve is the trick to making a name and creating longevity through boom times and through the disasters.
The highs are highs and the lows are face down in the gutter. Wall Street is not a charity and you’re going to prove yourself again and again and again as worthy. When you start, you’ll meet a lot of different folks. Most will be the smartest mofos you’ve ever met. Scary smart. Others will have a last name like Rockefeller or Throckmorton and can’t even tie their shoes. Others may look disheveled and be a secret genius (including a few Rocks and Throcks.) Others will just confuse you as in how-the-hell-did-they-get-a job-here, I thought there were standards (usually a nephew or son-in-law of a client or long retired muckity muck.) It doesn’t matter. You’re there. You got the job (“Give me ten Norton,” etc.) Now you’ve got to execute. Not today, not tomorrow, but over the next number of years.
OK, here are the big things you really need to understand and do to kick ass on Wall Street. To do well, you’ve got to do most of the following:
- Figure Out The Meritocracy
- Make A Good First Impression
- Understand The Big Picture
- Find the Right Role
- Get A Mentor
- Lock Down Clients
- Be A Hero
- Guard Your Reputation
- Get Paid
- Read, Read, Read
But before getting into all that, first let me throw you a little armchair philosophy. Working on Wall Street is a privilege. You’ve been chosen. Even before you start working, you will be labeled a snobby rich bastard and a flesh-eating soulless baby seal cub beater. And worse. In other word, others want to tear you down.
Lots of unemployed and unemployable protesters lived in smelly parks in tents to Occupy Wall Street. And for all I know, they probably still do. You, because of your job, are part of the 1%, even if you haven’t made a penny yet. The implication of the 1% label is that you exploit the other 99%. Nothing further is from the truth.
Some of it is envy, some of it is rationalization for the Occupiers’ own failures, and some of it is because groups just need something to protest and what the heck, ripping on a bunch of rich (predominately) white dudes doesn’t violate any of the unwritten political correctness standards and rules.
I’m not here to rationalize why you chose a job on Wall Street vs. building huts in Costa Rica. That’s you’re doing. I’ve put this together to explain how Wall Street works and what I think you need to do to succeed.
I look at Wall Street as the lubricant that greases the gears of the economy. Without capital and finances raised by Wall Street, those gears would freeze up. We’re still going through the hangover from the financial crisis when the grease did disappear for months on end. Wall Street sneezed and the World caught pneumonia.
Wall Street is not a bunch of greedy bastards shaking down Main Street for every last dime – although there are plenty of those types of ass wipes that do work on Wall Street. Wall Street provides a needed function in the economy. It is real. It provides real economic value. You will generate wealth, for yourself AND for society. Really. But believe me, it’s hard, if not outright impossible, for most others to see this value.
Movies like Wall Street don’t help. Nor does Bernie Madoff or any of the other villains. And what the heck, Goldman Sachs Lloyd Blankfein and JP Morgan’s Jamie Dimon don’t help the cause with their massive compensation. I think they deserve their due, but they should take it all in stock and sell it when they retire.
I’m proud of my 20+ years working on Wall Street. Maybe I’m just rationalizing its economic purpose to make myself feel good and so I have something to talk about at cocktail parties. But I don’t think so.
You’ll figure this out for yourself.
But in the mean time, just understand that no matter how you got there, your job and your payday and your social position are not a gift. You have to deserve it.
And when you do well, you will.