June 2011

Decisions

My career as a stockbroker

Exacerbating an already difficult situation was that the penny-stock boutique firm I worked for demanded 12- to 16-hour workdays and a few hours on Saturdays. Fortunately, my spirits frequently were buoyed by dedicated co-workers, and nothing provided energy quite like making a sale. That boiler room buzz you’ve seen in movies like “Wall Street” is very real and exhilarating. I quickly grew to enjoy the socialization of a brokerage office as much as a science lab and find (to this day) financial products as fascinating as chemicals. 

But the commissions I earned were insufficient to pay the bills, and I was forced to lean heavily on the generosity of sympathetic friends until I could recapture my self-sufficiency. Meanwhile, my brokerage firm was starting to fall into disfavor with securities regulators, and I had to change firms. I was then introduced to the world of the home office. Eventually, I dislodged a job opportunity from a temp-to-hire agency. To the rescue rode, of course, chemistry, in the form of a suburban San Diego photo-polymer printing plate company. This operation swiftly breathed new life into my dormant lab skills. No stock sale or mutual fund exchange could erode my ability to perform HPLC and GC or interpret NMR spectra. In a few weeks I successfully reverse-engineered a printing plate formula owned by one of the company’s competitors and parlayed a three-month temporary assignment into a full-time job.

Back to science?

Now I can quit the stockbroker business as order has been restored, right? Fat chance. I love researching investments. A stock chart taps the analytical chemist in me as much as an IR or mass spectrum. A Wall Street Journal reads as easily as Chemical and Engineering News. I find Investors Business Daily no more technical than the Journal of the American Chemical Society. Nope, I had creditors – my personal bankers – to repay, so I did both. It was the most ambitious project of my life, and I made it work. Even though market hours (6:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Pacific Time) overlapped my new 8-to-5, all of my investment clients either were mutual fund holders or buy-and-hold stock owners. So I’d check quotes, call clients and, yes, fax trades at breaks, during lunch, in the evenings and on weekends. I became an occupational Casanova. 

It all went exhaustingly well until the newspaper company that owned the printing plate company decided to sell us to a larger privately owned chemical company. My responsibilities, which by now had mysteriously morphed away from the core competency that earned this full-time position in the first place, seemed likely to become even murkier under new ownership, assuming they needed me at all. Add to this a recent bad review with my current boss and a client base itching to do more business, and I had all the ingredients for 24/7 entrepreneurship. 

Regrettably, the brokerage business grew too slowly to reach the critical mass necessary for sustainability and survival. The compliance grim reaper that had haunted my initial financial services firm finally came calling here. Massive layoffs and withheld contracts followed at this once pristine financial services outpost in San Diego. Had my money under management been sufficiently larger, I would have been spared the blade. I wasn’t sunk by the bear market but rather by decisions and nondecisions. It is said in business that whether you occupy the corner office or just one of the cubicles may boil down to a few crucial decisions. Perhaps people are judged less by their decisions and more by how they navigate their consequences, but on occasion, we are forced to summon our inner Indiana Jones just to survive our choices. I currently tutor math and chemistry, and I’m trying to build another self-sustaining client base. Will the next decision be mine?

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COMMENTS:

I find this article fascinating. Many can relate to the nessecity of sustainability in dealing with the current economic state. It is delightful to know that you are continuing to persevere in the midst of navigating consequences. Your optimistic and insightfulness will lead you to great success. Teresa Ford

 

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