When I was sixteen years old, we were assigned a mock stock market project in my economics class. I was excited because I knew a lot about the stock market already. After all, my Dad was a stockbroker at Merrill Lynch! I knew he would be happy to let me pick his brain. He loves teaching and sharing knowledge. I’d seen him spend hours sharing tidbits and advice on anything and everything with his clients; they became like part of our family.
The project was a competition, and I was absolutely positive that I’d come out on top. How could I not? Well, I didn’t. I’d made significant gains, but I wasn’t even close to rivaling the top ten contenders.
I was angry. Angry at the competition, myself and my dad. What kind of stockbroker was he if he couldn’t even help me win a high school mock stock market competition?
Dad listened to my complaints patiently, smiling a little at some parts. I didn’t come right out and accuse of him of being a terrible stockbroker, but the implication was certainly there. I waited to hear what he had to say for himself.
“What was at stake?” he asked me.
“Winning?” I asked.
He shook his head. He pointed out that I’d told him I wanted to play as if it were real. He asked me again.
“Money?” I said.
“Whose money?” he asked.
He explained to me that in the real world, the stock market isn’t a game. Client resources aren’t just playing pieces.
I claimed to understand, but back in my room, I rolled my eyes…no pain no gain, right? The greater the risk, the greater the reward!
A couple years later, I was on my way to Syracuse and the Whitman School of Management, and I hadn’t forgotten the lesson I’d learned in high school. Or at least, the lesson I thought I’d learned. I decided that I was going to graduate having already earned my first million dollars in the stock market. I’d be a millionaire with a diploma and the world would be my oyster!
That fantasy lasted until I’d lost over half of my money through online investments before the financial crisis hit. I thought back to the stock market game and my father’s utter satisfaction at my finishing solidly in the top percentile. It was starting to make sense.
I asked myself, “What if that had been a client’s money, a client that trusted me?”
The more engaged I became in learning about finance and accounting topics, thanks to the excellent professors at Syracuse, the more my father’s lessons resonated with me. I learned to love learning for the first time, which became a tremendous catalyst to my future growth in all areas. Having the professors at Whitman nurture that late adjustment in my personal growth will probably be my greatest takeaway from the University–not a specific subject, class or teacher, but a collective effort driven from the schools mission.
When I graduated (not as a millionaire, by the way) I went first to Ernst & Young, one of the top firms in the accounting industry. I spent two years there, learning and building relationships with some of the largest financial institutions in the world, many of whom had been at the center of the financial crisis. It was a great introduction to the financial world. One which was afforded to me by Syracuse’s excellent campus recruiting efforts.
Now I work alongside one of the best financial advisors I’ve ever known: my father. Working with my family’s group at Merrill Lynch, our clients know that their resources will be treated as responsibly as we would our own. And they learn that my father isn’t the only person in the office I see as family: I treat each and every client as family as well.