Here’s the scene. You’re in the interior of a large, and loud institutional brokerage firm. It’s utter mayhem and organized chaos, with paper flying and Institutional salespeople shouting over one another and at each other. One of the Administrative Assistants picks up a call and shouts…
“Call for you Buddy. Pickup line 2…”
“Bud Fox,” the young man says matter-of-factly, but hopeful.
“OK Bud Fox, I want you to buy 20,000 Bluestar at 15 1/8 – 3/8 tops,” the man says spinning in his chair, coming face-to-face with the audience. “Think you can handle that?”
“Yes sir Mr. Gekko, you won’t regret this!”
And with that Buy order for Bluestar, Bud Fox sold his integrity to Gordon Gekko and with it any hope he’d have for a solid career – all for a measly ticket into the arena of 10-figure clients. He had great parents and a solid upbringing. So how can something like this happen?
Somewhere in the late 80s there was a young man from the outer boroughs. His father was a laborer and worked for the company for his entire career, and he had a mentor and folks who helped him along the way. He’d almost gone in another direction career-wise, but was ultimately drawn to the excitement of Wall Street. He took a job at one of the largest and most successful firms on Wall Street hoping to “bag the elephant.”
You know the story, but…
…the firm wasn’t Jackson Steinem, it was Goldman Sachs. The company where he cut his teeth was not Bluestar Airlines, it was Ghost Motorcycles. The solid advice wasn’t from Lou Mannheim, it was from Sol Gittleman. And the young man wasn’t Bud Fox, he was and still is Anthony Scaramucci, Founder and Managing Partner of SkyBridge Capital.
To set the record straight, Scaramucci doesn’t think greed serves anyone, and he’s so disgusted with it and what’s happening on Wall Street that he’s written a book called Goodbye Gordon Gekko: How to Find Your Fortune Without Losing Your Soul.
“We need to be done with Gekko,” he said. “It’s been 25 years since we’ve met this guy and it’s time to put Gekko behind us.”
Scaramucci knows a bit about Gekko and the type – he’s been trying to avoid the Gekko’s all his life. Oliver Stone and his team hired him as a technical advisor to Money Never Sleeps, the follow up of the 1987 classic original Wall Street. Michael Douglas won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his depiction of the corporate dealmaker.
Goodbye Gordon Gekko contains several characteristics that Scaramucci has condensed into what and how he thinks you can make it without having to compromise your integrity or character, among others are Ambition, Success and Failure, Vocation and Meaning, and Knowledge. To the last point he delineates an uncharacteristic book list for further reading in this atypical Wall St. book…and Market Wizards is not on the list, but A Peace to End All Peace, The Odyssey, and Lincoln at Gettysburg are.
Scaramucci can relate to the class-jumping ability that Wall Street provides those who are ethically motivated to work hard. After graduating Tufts, he made his way to Harvard Law, where he “was destined not to become an attorney.” He bailed on law as a profession and, inspired by some friends he made at Harvard Business School, he joined the training class at Goldman Sachs in their Real Estate division.
Although Gekko is widely known for his “Greed is good” line, the renown line was originally uttered by Ivan Boesky at a Berkeley commencement. “Greed didn’t serve Boesky,” he said. “And it didn’t serve the bankers from the subprime morass either.”
It bothered him that he didn’t see the law degree through, and he announced to his Goldman bosses (and colleagues) that he was going to take the bar exam. They encouraged him and expressed admiration in that he was going to finish something he started. He failed the exam, however, and there was no way to save face. “Everyone knew I was taking the exam.” Not to be undone, he sat a second time after only half-assing (his words) through the prep and he failed the bar a second time.
But that was before the fun started. He then got fired from Goldman – but not because of failing the bar exam, but because he was not a good fit for the department. He was given his walking papers and an $11,000 severance check. He did have the good fortune to get introduced to the Private Client Group before he left, but he had to apply and go through the grueling interviews. (He didn’t have to re-submit his resume.)
After several years working for the Private Client Group at Goldman, he left and founded his first firm, which he eventually sold. Throughout his journey up to this point, he took notice of those who were successful, but he also took better notes on the cost for that achievement.
There were some big trade-offs, most that were detrimental in the long-term. Poor health, no friends, no relationship with your kids, and no marriage to speak of. This was not going to be his career path, and Goodbye Gordon Gekko is full of such tales of how Scaramucci cut his teeth on the street.
Refreshingly, both Scaramucci and his book speak of failures and lessons learned with great candor. I found that with Maria Bartiromo as well. There is no facade with Scaramucci, and that is rare for an absolute insider who has reached the highest echelons of Wall Street.
Because his failure is the vehicle by which Scaramucci learns the most about himself over the course of his ongoing career on Wall St., Goodbye Gordon Gekko will make a great Ethics textbook for undergrads and B-Schoolers alike. Such students, although highly educated, are still insecure in that they haven’t proven themselves yet and the sheepskin is all they can fall back on.
Wall St., especially trading, does not necessarily build character – it reveals it. Once you land on The Street, you quickly find out that, at least for traders, your P&L becomes the only credential that matters. Ivy League-this, MBA-that, pretty much go out the window.
Although his current firm SkyBridge Capital sits atop $7.5 billion in assets, to get there Scaramucci had to learn to be book smart and street smart. This includes a “family lesson” he was taught at the age of 17. It was Friday, January 9, 1981, 9 pm, 130th St. and Park Avenue. Central Harlem. Scaramucci’s uncle put all his family through a ritual of delivering a motorcycle in Harlem to teach all the Scaramucci boys a lesson.
As Scaramucci puts it, “there wasn’t really anything to worry about, although my mind got the best of me on the way there. They were just normal people who were living in a tough neighborhood.” The man was $30 short. Anthony, along with his doberman who made the trip, stood his ground and waited for the gentleman to return with “$30 in change and coins” to pay for the motorcycle in full. “It was the best education I could have gotten.”
With his free time, Scaramucci and SkyBrige host the annual SALT Conference in Las Vegas, which this year featured Bill Clinton as the main Key Note speaker. “President Obama was saying now is not the time to be going to Vegas. So what did we do? We went against the grain and did what we thought was best. We went to Vegas and we had over 500 people there.”
Goodbye Gordon Gekko is full of advice and hard-won wisdom. He’s reached the pinnacle, but also had to “look into the abyss” as Hal Holbrook’s Wall Street character Lou Mannheim said to Bud just before he was arrested. Scaramucci hasn’t had to look into the abyss though, and he absolutely doesn’t believe you have to for a great career – Wall Street or not.
Although SkyBridge is ranked about 22nd in size for a Fund of Funds, he is all character and very humble. “Michael, make no mistake about it. I FAILED – TWICE. I WAS FIRED from Goldman,” he said deliberately slowly to emphasize the point. “Yeah, you can say that I was re-allocated upstairs to Equities from Real Estate, but I was FIRED and that was all there was to it.”
Scaramucci obviously has made quite a comeback, and he didn’t have to sell his soul a la Bud Fox to do it.
Goodbye Gordon Gekko: How to Find Your Fortune Without Losing Your Soul is out on Wiley on Hardcover and Kindle.