Thursday, December 17, 2009

#28 Cold Hard Cash

December 17th 2009

Cold Hard Cash

It’s interesting what many of us think we would do for cold hard cash. Cash seems to make so many of our problems go away. We imagine how much bigger our house would be, what kind of car we would drive, and the new clothes we would wear. However, I think that many of us overestimate just exactly what we would do for cold hard cash.

I was faced with this situation very early on in my career, my first real job in fact. I was lucky to get a job at the time and the first job I did get was working as a junior trader for one of the big equity traders at an investment bank in Los Angeles. I had never wanted to work in finance before, but trading seemed like an exciting and adrenalin filled world. Oh how wrong I was. Now don’t get me wrong. There are numerous types of trading that are adrenalin filled, just not the kind I was doing. We traded on behalf of large fund managers, so basically all we did was execute the trades, which came to us in the quantities of hundreds of thousands, and took commission off the back of that.

I had to be at the office at 2:30 AM everyday as we were trading on New York hours. Looking around the office, it was difficult not to notice that I was one of 2 females and the youngest by a few years. It was an opportunity that many would give a lot for. A good 80% of the guys had been there their entire careers and were now in the 40’s, 50’s and early 60’s. They took home anywhere from $1m to $3m upwards each year in salary and while those are no hedge fund numbers, that is still serious cash. The more junior guys in the office still did well and made well into the 6 figures. I knew at 22 that by 30 I would be in a position where I could be making millions each year. Maybe because I was so young, the figures didn’t seem real. But I also knew that I would be trading in my 20’s for money. Also, my 30’s and part of my 40’s. That was when I first discovered that I am not that motivated just by cold hard cash.

It’s an interesting discovery as I had always thought I was money motivated and do think I am to a certain extent. But there I was, 6 months into a job that I hated, working hours that gave me zits for the first time in my life and I was miserable. My roommate was coming in from a night out as I was leaving for work. I remember making the decision based on the weight of my unhappiness and knowing that no amount of money was worth it. I was 22, the world was supposed to be my oyster, I would figure out other ways to make money and I did.
I remember telling my parents, who were not happy. There were very proud that I had got a good job with the prospects of a successful career and they felt that 6 months was not enough time for me to make a decision. But sometimes you know you are right and that is it. I thought, how many more months do I have to be unhappy to know that I am unhappy? Turned out, 0 more months. But the reason I bring this up is that I don’t know many people who would trade in their happiness, sanity and the most precious thing of all; their health for money. (Did I mention I had taken to crying at the drop of a hat?) Many people may think they would, but that is just their greed talking. Of course, many people do trade these things in every day for money, but to what is extent? I always remain very grateful I got to experience that very early on in my career as it forced me to learn that there is a lot I won’t do for money. I want the cold hard cash to be the by product, not the main gig.

Perhaps I think this way because I have always lived in relative comfort but I don’t think so. I was told from a young age that I could do anything I wanted if I put my mind to it and even with 30 knocking at the door, I still truly believe that. That is why I don’t think, even if I grew up impoverished, that I would sacrifice all that is important to me for money. Somehow cold hard cash is just not enough.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

9-5 Outside the City Walls

Hi everyone,

This week's Ride is my article in Here is the City.

The Ride will continue next week as usual. Hope you enjoy and as always feel free to comment either on the HITC website or here.

Hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday season!!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Class of 2009 :: A Class Education #27

Class of 2009 :: A Class Education

December 3rd 2009

The topic this week is more of an observation rather than much food for thought, but it’s one that I find fascinating. Having lived in the UK now for 6 years, I have had the unique opportunity to observe and take part in its cultures and traditions as a foreigner. One of the most intriguing aspects of the UK, is their class system. The class system in this country is as English as the Ol’ Baked Bean herself (that is cockney for Queen for all the Americans gotta love a bit of cockney!). It’s funny, as before I came to live here I didn’t really know anything about it. Even visiting the UK, it’s not something that I feel that you can really understand until you spend a lot of time here. So today I am going to cover some of the differences in the UK and US class systems.

First off, the US doesn’t really have a class system. Well nothing on the level of over here. We have a black President whose father was from Kenya, which is a clear and obvious example of the American dream being alive and well. Also, as the States are not even 300 years old one could make the argument that the entire country is nouveau riche. The closest thing that we have to a class system probably exists on the East Coast and only because that side of the country was settled first. But again, comparing it to the UK class system is like comparing a white Alba truffle to black truffle oil... there really is no comparison.

High school vs Public school. First off, you have to get your head around the lingo. Public school in England is not what our public schools are, which are called “state schools” over here. Public school here is a private, usually boarding school. The public school you go to ends up being much more important than where you go to university (unless you attend Oxford or Cambridge). Over here their public schools are like our Ivy Leagues, the kids you meet and relationships you build presumably will be ones that help you out later on in your career and life. An example of a public school with a large amount of sway may be a school like Eton or Harrow. Both of these schools produce a startling number of MP’s (Members of Parliament). Now in the States, very few people care about where you went to high school or even if it was public (state) or private. The east coast is an exception with a larger number of kids going to boarding school there. However, going to a good boarding school is only to help you get into a top university later on, as our systems places a much greater deal on where you attend college. Where I am from, if you went to boarding school it was not necessarily a positive thing. You were either “sent away” because you were a problem child or in some worse cases you were sent away to military school. Either way, going away to a boarding school was rarely a good thing. So it is very opposite to over here.

Another opposite in the UK class and US class systems are found in their choice of vehicle. Now assuming we are calling the wealthy in the US the upper class, their taste in vehicle will be extravagant and certainly expensive. Americans spend a great deal of time in their cars and there is also a lot of pride placed on what car you drive. An upper class American may drive a Range Rover, Bentley, Mercedes, BMW or even a Ferrari. You would not be caught dead in a beat up old VW. In all honesty, you probably wouldn’t even be caught dead in a last series Merc or Range Rover. A truly posh and upper class English person would rather die than be caught driving around in a Ferrari or new Bentley (an older inherited one maybe). Many of the upper class over here drive around in 10 year old VW Golfs, or old Land Rovers if they are on their estate in the country. Posh people would consider a brand new Range Rover déclassé and would never want to be confused with a footballer’s wife. So in the UK crap old Golf = posh person and new Range Rover = Coleen Rooney. In the USA crap old Golf = not enough money to buy a new Golf and new Range Rover = wealthy to moderately wealthy and likes driving a big nice car.

On to the accent. This one I love. It has taken me years to fully understand all of the accents and dialects over here and there are still some like the Liverpudlian accent, which I struggle with. What I find amazing is that 2 people can grow up within 1 mile of each other and have completely different accents. Now an accent you cannot hide. You cannot ever get away from it and it will always belie your true roots. If you wish to be accepted into the upper echelons of British society, it will be incredibly difficult if not impossible without the right accent. Now for the Americans to understand this, a posh accent is someone who speaks like one of the Royal family, not someone whose accent is like Simon Cowell’s or David Beckham’s. So even though Simon and David are hugely successful worldwide, both are self made and both are at the top of their respective industries, neither will ever be accepted into certain circles back home. Why? Because their accent belies their background and breeding and they will never be posh, regardless of Beckham’s wife’s nickname.

I could really go on forever on this one, from what people wear to where they holiday. Even something as simple as a watch could give your class away over here. But I wouldn’t ever want to change the English class system. Why? Because although it’s very outdated, it’s a large part of the culture and tradition of the country. If people don’t come from a certain background, it doesn’t matter in the real world. The American dream is not just alive in America, but certainly exists over here where there are a huge amount of self made people. I can think of so many more opposites over here from double barreled names to the armed forces. But one thing rings clear, although the US and the UK may be very close politically the 2 countries remain a world apart culturually and the world is the better for it.