Tales of Greed, Love, and Schizophrenia
“The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all its forms: greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind.”
I got into finance for all the wrong reasons.
I had watched Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street” during university, but it wasn’t Hollywood’s glorification of Corporate Raiders that got me hooked. No, it was much more personal.
I visited my big brother for the first time since he moved out. He had a true bachelor pad in the heart of Chelsea. I idolized him. He was a stockbroker for investment bank Morgan Grenfell and was living large.
I remember looking through his wardrobe and seeing a huge pile of perhaps fifty Saville Row tailor-made shirts, all crisp and new in unsealed plastic wrap. There was a whole host of whites, plus a bevy of colourful checkered shirts that would look right at home in a chalk-white pinstripe suit.
“Why so many shirts?" I asked,
“Well I hate ironing so I just throw them away when they are dirty” he answered.
I was hooked.
With that one sentence he had decided what subject I would take at university. Back then, an econ degree could land you a job in the City. Computers trade everything now - removing human emotion from the equation.
I was good at economics. I also discovered reading during my college years. After years of being force-fed D.H. Lawrence and Chaucer, I had finally caught on to the fact that reading could be fun.
The symptoms started to show. On our family vacations to the Algarve we’d often see my brother standing alone in a street talking to a lamppost. Things went downhill fast. Car accidents, suicide attempts… He swore to me that it wasn’t him. Morgan Grenfell were out to get him, he said. They controlled his every move by implanting a microchip in his brain. They remotely instructed his brain to walk off the top of a building. He needed money. He begged me for money. He drew me an incredibly complex diagram of a helmet he had designed to block out white noise radio waves. Only then would he be safe from the evil Morgan Grenfell. The Serious Fraud Squad wanted to question him on his involvement in the Sumitomo copper trading scandal. He moved in to my tiny studio flat.
I’d fallen in love with a girl called Roxane. We planned a trip to Greece. A week before leaving she said she couldn’t go - Her friends had invited her to the South of France. I stood up in the middle of the restaurant and called her the B word and stormed out. That was the last time I saw her. Our relationship lasted exactly nine and a half weeks.
My gorgeous neighbor Sam said she would love to come with me to Greece - a strictly platonic relationship.
I arrived back only to find my brother had tried it again. In hospital he looked a mess. Steel rods through his legs. My mother, and his doctors, advised me to leave the country for my own good. He was too dependent on me and would destroy my career.
It was 1989 and Japan was the place to be. I hopped on a plane and left.
Two years later I found myself armed with Japanese lingual skill and a job as a currency options broker. The Capital Markets consumed me. I devoured books on my train ride into work. Barbarians at the Gates, Den of Thieves, Liar’s Poker, Vendetta, A Predator’s Ball … tales of greed and lavish lifestyles – I read them all.
It wasn’t an epiphany. Granted two decades in finance afforded me a comfortable lifestyle. I hopped from bank to bank, moving to Singapore, then back to Tokyo, then Singapore again, and finally Shanghai. But over the years I started to question my purpose. It was greed and selfishness that got me here. I had become the foremost expert in advising Wall Street titans on accessing China’s exploding capital markets. But what good was I doing?
It was timely that in 2012 I was the first casualty of a failing sino-foreign joint venture. This was the impetus I desperately needed. The master plan quickly shifted to solving youth unemployment. Turning down a number of offers from major proprietary trading groups I dug in and prepared for life as an entrepreneur.
Is this my redemption?
The above quote was taken from the movie Wall Street. Although a work of fiction, the characters are loosely modeled on real life corporate raiders. Inspiration for the “greed is good” speech stems from a speech given by Ivan Boesky at Berkeley in 1987.
“Greed is all right, by the way. I want you to know that. I think greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself.”
Boesky ended up serving two years at Lompoc Federal Prison in California. He was also fined $100 million for insider trading.
Some people find redemption, many don’t. Michael Milken, the “Junk Bond King” also served two years after being implicated by Boesky. Milken and the Milken Family Foundation have gone on to award tens of millions of dollars to support medical research and education. In 2004 Forbes did a cover story on Milken’s philanthropic endeavors, calling him “The Man Who Changed Medicine”.
A good man.
Dean Owen is Co-Founder of Quimojo, a revolutionary new concept in Global Campus Recruitment."
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