Learning from Traders that Made It (Part 2)

03/18/2008 12:00 am EST


Timothy Morge

President, MarketGeometry.com

Early one summer, one of my interns quit to return home and join their family business. I was left with a spot to fill, so I spoke with the recruiters to make a short list of candidates to interview. To my surprise, one of the candidates that had originally made my ‘wish list’ was on the list of available candidates to interview. I asked to interview this gentleman and the bank arranged for him to spend an afternoon interviewing with me.

When Mark came through my office door that afternoon, I suddenly remembered the details of his circumstances: he had been in a joint degree program at one of the schools we recruited from and was also a prized student athlete; in fact, his University won its Division Title two years in a row and he was the division’s Player of the Year runner up his last year in school. Although I had bid on him at our talent draft, he had chosen to enter the NBA draft that year and indeed was drafted by an NBA team. In fact the Chicago Bulls had drafted him! He was right in the middle of summer camp with the Bulls and had taken the afternoon off to speak with me about potentially entering our trader intern program. This opened a fascinating line of questioning for me.

Mark was a six-foot six-inch guard and while he had not gone very high in the first round of the NBA draft, he had realized his childhood dream of being drafted by an NBA team and signing an NBA contract. Why would he be interested in interviewing for a trader intern spot? I didn’t work my way gracefully to this subject—I went right to the heart of the matter: now that your childhood dream was in your grasp, why would you be willing to give it up to try to learn to be a trader?

Mark looked me in the eyes and was honest and forthcoming. He had been drafted into the NBA, signed a contract and was now playing summer basketball for a NBA franchise with one of the best players in the league, Michael Jordan. It was everything he had ever dreamed of, all there in front of him. And now he was in his third week of summer camp, playing against other professional players. He had more talent than 99.99 percent of all the college basketball players in the world. He should be ecstatic and enthusiastic and enjoying the beginnings of his professional basketball career.

Instead, every trip down the court, it became more and more obvious to him that although he was a star player in college, he was not going to be a star player in the NBA. It hadn’t taken him long to measure his abilities against the other players in camp and he had come to a quick and startling decision. He might sit on an NBA bench for a year or two, but he was never going to be more than a bench warmer. The talent level of his competition was too high and his weaknesses were too many to overcome. No matter how much he practiced, no matter how much he wanted to improve, he’d never be able to compete in the NBA at the level he had always dreamed of.

He paused and then he told me that once he realized that he would never be a starter, he knew it was time to move on, time to find out what he could do at a professional level for the rest of his life that would make him happy and successful. And when the bank called him and told him that I was interested in interviewing him again, it felt right. He wanted to talk to me about the possibilities of learning to be a professional trader.

I was honestly speechless. I can only imagine just how many thousands of hours this young man must have spent shooting free throws in different gyms over the years, how many thousands of hours he must have spent playing pick up basketball games from grade school all the way through college, how many thousands of hours of structured practices he must have gone through to hone his considerable basketball skills and how many games he must have played in from grade school through college—all with the goal of becoming an NBA player. And now, he was considering walking away to start over! After silently running all these thoughts through my head I looked Mark in the eyes and repeated them to him.

He barely waited for me to finish before responding: sitting on the bench for a year or two wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t why he had spent all those hours practicing and playing. He wanted to be a successful professional basketball player. And to him, that meant starting on an NBA team and playing significant minutes each night. It was now clear to him that even with all the time and energy he had put in over all those years, added to his significant physical size and talent, he was going to fail at meeting his goal. Then he said the words that cemented my interest in hiring him as an intern: ‘once I recognized it wasn’t going to happen, it was time to move on. The quicker I get out of this situation and take the emotional loss, the quicker I can move on and start down the road to my new profession. I think I can be a good trader, a successful professional trader. I want you to give me a chance.’

I didn’t ask him about his NBA contract. I told him what his starting salary would be and explained how he would be evaluated. Because he was a late entry into our intern program, he’d have to catch up with the other interns, which meant he’d actually have to sit next to me. He’d have to be there when I got to the bank in the morning and stay until I left [I typically arrived at the bank at 5 a.m. and left after 5 p.m. each day]. He’d be responsible for recording all my trades and checking and re-checking all my trades throughout the day. Most nights, he’d have to stay after I left, finishing balancing my various accounts. And while he spent the majority of his time assisting me, he’d have to learn what he had to learn about trading. He’d be fighting an uphill battle and his physical talents would not be any help in this arena—only performance counted in trading.

More tomorrow in part 3 Part 1  |  Part 3  |  Part 4  |  Part 5  |  Part 6

Timothy Morge


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