Dean Owen

4 years ago · 3 min. reading time · visibility ~100 ·

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The Longboat into Darkness

The Longboat into Darkness

I spent most of the nineties either on the phone surrounded by a plethora of trading screens, or out entertaining “Big Swinging Dicks”


“If he could make millions of dollars come out of these phones, he became that most revered of all species: a Big Swinging Dick”  (Source “Liar’s Poker”, Michael Lewis)


I had these Dicks on “hoot-n-holler”, a microphone and speaker system that enabled them to scream orders from faraway London, New York, or Paris. I’d then duly execute the orders on the terminals that frizzled my brain, or through another hoot-n-holler to the pit where our floor team would scream hand signals into a testosterone filled pit of barrow boys and locals in colorful trading jackets.

My clients were the biggest in the market. I got them likely because I was the only one who could keep my cool under the constant barrage of abuse. I was also pretty damn good at executing spreads, like butterflies and condors.

We honed our skills by playing Tetris when the markets were quiet. I was so fast that I’d often executed the order before the Dick had completed his sentence.

“Pay 48 on 500 Labor…

“Done!”

“… Day Euroyen”

Had he said Nikkei instead of Euroyen, I’d have been hung with a position for our “77777” account. Much like good old Nick Leeson, we had a house account for our error trades, but unlike Nick, we didn’t (in most cases) run our positions or try to profit from the error.


A big part of the broking business was entertainment. We would rack up huge bills wining and dining on $500 steaks. My biggest clients were the traders at Chemical Bank/Chase Manhatten, London, New York, Singapore. They were smart guys but hardly intellectual. One of them in particular demanded some pretty spectacular entertainment, from spending a couple of days at an English Manor in Hampshire, to renting whole islands in Indonesia for a massive Toga party.

I will never forget that darkest of dark nights in my life where we had the whole island to ourselves. All the brokers were there to hail the Dick trader from London. They’d draped themselves in bedsheets, Roman Emperor style, and we’d flown in a DJ from Hong Kong. 

I have no idea how it happened, but I was tasked with accompanying the Dick on a longboat with an outboard engine to the next island to “buy” 18 girls for the night. We headed out into the dark South China Seas and landed 30 minutes later at some island whose name remains a mystery. We headed into a village and Dick did some negotiating with a couple of locals. A few minutes later I found myself on the same boat surrounded by 18 young girls who had been bought for the night. It started to drizzle as we approached our little island. I had no idea how this night would play out.


The guys proceeded to pick partners. 18 guys, 18 girls, 18 resort rooms, well, the whole dang resort to be honest. After all the girls but one were scooped up, I approached the last girl and took her hand.

“Don’t worry”, I whispered.

Pretty soon I saw all the other girls draped in nothing but bedsheets. They were fodder for Emperors. We escaped the ensuing frenzy without touching the poolside banquet, and holed up in my room.

I sat her on the bed.

“Don’t worry” I whispered again.

We spent the next couple of hours talking about her family. We could hear screams of laughter outside. It was well after midnight that the noise subsided, and I told the girl to get some sleep. I sat on an armchair and finally fell asleep.

It must have been 4am when I heard a banging on the door.

“Police! Open up!”

I knew the voice. It was “”Mental” Mickey, one of the brokers.

We ignored it, but were not going to be able to get back to sleep, so we continued talking.

When sun finally rose, we headed for breakfast. The resort was a mess, and the cafes were empty. I took the girl jet skiing and then we hung out until the mob finally emerged from their vomit-ridden stupor.

“Good night?” one of the lads asked with a nudge nudge and a wink.

“Yes, brilliant” I replied, trying to hide my shame that this was the business I had chosen as a profession.

We all checked out of the resort and I footed the bill thinking what I would write on the expense report. “Golf” always worked well.

As we left the resort, the concierge came up to me and said “You guys sure know how to party!”

“Perhaps” I replied. “Perhaps not”.


Dick traded hundreds of millions through me, and other Dicks, many of them Wall Streets finest, would often visit Asia expecting some sordid form of entertainment. We’d often leave hostess bars draped with a pretty girl, and every time I’d drive her straight to her home and the next day pretend I’d had an amazing night. One day I’d finally had enough. I decided that “entertainment” would be of my choosing. We’d go sailing across the Singapore Straits, race cars at Malaysia’s Sepang F1 circuit, and yes, play golf.


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The whole façade lastest into the late 90’s, when banks finally put a lid on exorbitant expenses.

A new breed was also emerging in Wall Street. This was the dawn of algorithmic trading, and human traders with large gonads were getting replaced by geeky coders. Brokers had to adapt and become experts in technology. We started talking about Fix Protocol, proximity hosting, and low latency solutions. Clients chose brokers because of other reasons and not just who entertained the loudest. The industry became gentrified, and many of the East End Barrow Boys went on to succeed in other industries. I spent the next decade talking to the smartest people on the planet, the High Frequency Trading crowd of PhD’s and rocket scientists.

But I’ll not forget the 1990’s. I survived, as did my liver. But I was complicit in exploiting the world’s oldest profession, normal girls that got dealt a bad hand in life.


Regrets?

Just the one…


""
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Comments
Lisa Gallagher

Lisa Gallagher

4 years ago #23

#16
Im sure DJT is familiar with the golden showeres lounge, he probably refused the umbrella and raincoat. Wow, guess you did jus touch the surface. Sounds like those days were extremely stressful after the adrenaline began to wear down.

CityVP Manjit

CityVP Manjit

4 years ago #22

#24
Dear Pamela [ Pamela \ud83d\udc1d Williams ] In my LinkedIn post "Falling into Things" https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/falling-things-cityvp-manjit I fully and squarely pinpoint a pivotal point which happened at school in my teens, where our Careers Advisor Mr Higgins effectively failed to convey to me the attachment of importance to the career path. Instead exasperated he told me in very direct terms that not having a career path made a wandering nomad without a future. At that point I went from clueless about not knowing what I wanted to do, to embracing the path of a wandering nomad. Today young people are being told what I just happen to fall into, that the idea of a traditional career path is no longer the norm. So I am here at this juncture today and if I ever accept the idea of a "career path' as relevant, I will invest in a startup that has "Higgins" in the startup name. Until then I remain all career advisors worst nightmare. I did end up selling stocks but I junked the job after my third sale - there was nothing good about the actual work other than it was a different experience - and therefore educational.

CityVP Manjit

CityVP Manjit

4 years ago #21

#22
This story brings me back to what I found Ari Kopoulos discussed in terms of serendipitiy, though he was focused on tactical serendipity and how to utilize this force https://www.bebee.com/producer/@ari-kopoulos/finding-your-aha-moment-through-tactical-serendipity Tried to find out why Baring chose yellow and black but could not find an explanation, but it did trigger another thought in my head, which is association with yellow and black insects - and the answer I came to was Yellow Jacket Wasps see link: Yellowjacket Wasps http://agriculture.vermont.gov/sites/ag/files/pdf/apiary/Honey%20Bee%20or%20Yellowjacket%20Wasp.pdf Of course I love the metaphor of WASP's - which for those who do not know is White Anglo-Saxon Protestants, but that metaphor won't fit if I find out if Leeson is a catholic - or at least he now leads Galway United. The point of this is so far I am glad beBee has not yet released their "sting" idea where they view sting as a good thing. Wasp's sting is not a good thing and a bee sting kills the bee (kind of self-defeating). I will practice the mantra in the meantime "sting is good, sting is good, sting is good" but so far all I mentally conjur up is the picture of the band leader of Police. Interestingly Nick Leeson was born in Watford - and we know their colours (but that does not explain the yellow/black of Baring).

Dean Owen

Dean Owen

4 years ago #20

#21
Never been a stockbroker. Not sure I would have enjoyed the job with all that cold calling retail clients and plugging stocks. I don't think you would have found it a rewarding career. I was never involved in retail so I never had to dupe anybody into trading products they clearly didn't understand. Funny thing about the pits was that they were typically hexagonal, just like bee hives! And Barings Bank floor trading jackets were yellow and black thick stripes, just like a bee! https://www.theguardian.com/business/2007/apr/05/money1

CityVP Manjit

CityVP Manjit

4 years ago #19

#20
From my comparative tiny world I live in it is not a stretch, try putting me in a trading pit and observe the resulting disaster. My view of the trading floor relates more to TURN THOSE MACHINES BACK ON https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j4SRsGn14PI rather than actual experience of a trading pit, for where one has not lived such a life, one stretches everything - that is why storytelling is so powerful and why eventually everything corrodes into a society that feeds itself on greater mythologies. It will indeed be an interesting account of the actual life of a trader, but it is real difficult to focus on that, when the bizarre accounts of Wall Street not only match your account but also surpass the stories of debauchery and wild life that you described. Even when I did try my hand at a career in stockbroking - I did not make it past the first level. So naive was I that I only learned the difference between being a penny-stock trader and a stockbroker the moment I found myself sitting in a boiler room - and even then I convinced myself that this was just a rite of passage before one of the big trading houses recruited me . They never did, for as one boiler room boy answered me when I asked him why the top firms have not responded "did you put this firm on your resume, you NEVER tell them that you work here unless you begin selling big and then they will find to you on a private membership golf course, especially if you make big money here and you are accepted into the golf course". Maybe I should change the comparison from seeing trading pit from a cockpit to myself - then the comparison is with Mr Bean driving a car https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yvdLgRWkxTw If the almighty has placed us in two different worlds, they may share some similarities but very rarely will it be the same ends of that world. I look forward to your account of the trading pits.

Dean Owen

Dean Owen

4 years ago #18

#18
I will at some stage do a post about the trading pits. Lots of stories to tell. But to compare the skill of the floor brokers and locals to Ayrton Senna is quite a stretch. With the girls, I went through the motions, usually at some KTV. They were usually covered in perfume and would snuggle up next to you so invariably the perfume would rub off on your suit. Kind of hard to explain to the writing wife at home so even though I was, for all intensive purposes, innocent, I'd still cover myself in beer before going home, just to drown the stench.

Dean Owen

Dean Owen

4 years ago #17

#17
and definitely not mine either!

CityVP Manjit

CityVP Manjit

4 years ago #16

I remember my first visit to a trading floor, it was beyond me how fast traders signal and take orders - in comparison that is like me trying to squat a fly, as far as the fly is concerned. It is the same speed sense that made Ayrton Senna the greatest racing car driver of all time - he could see speed, whereas the rest of us would only see a blur and that at half of Senna's speed. As for people bringing girls back to the room, I only encountered that once and I was dumbfounded as you were. This time I was the sales guys on one of those retreats and the sales guy I shared a ski cabin with decided to go out for the evening and I told him that I needed to work on my presentation delivery for the next morning. Past midnight I was still working on my laptop and I was on the first floor and he was kipping on the floor above. The front entrance was straight into the bedroom and instead of seeing him return, I see him return with two girls. I immediately thought WTF? First I did not know what to say, and then I looked back at my laptop and simply said "I've got to finish this, you guys go upstairs and sleep". Now from the sales guy point of view, the news story tomorrow with the boys would "night with two girls in the bed". In the morning I awoke with the sound of him saying goodbye to both girls. He shut the door with a huge grin on his face, this is a grin I quickly removed real fast. He was glorying in the story he did not engage in any sex. I looked at him "are you f'ing nuts?" - "this might be a great story, but your nuts are going to be sliced and diced when your wife finds out". I never seen a guy move from utter hubris and confidence to a stark fearful pale ghost realization. I told him don't worry, you don't talk about this, I won't mention it any of the guys - but next time use your "Fxxking BRAIN !!!" His wife never found out and he has kept forever schtum.

Dean Owen

Dean Owen

4 years ago #15

#15
Unfortunately being young and naive, I thought it was all just part and parcel of the territory. Believe me, I have only just scratch the surface here. I remember an S&M bar in Tokyo that clients loved. It had everything from crucifixes to gimps. When you go in, they pass you a photo album. You would not believe some of the people in the photos, US and Japanese politicians, famous business men, major religious figures, tied up to the crucifix and getting whipped. In another bar, when you enter they give you a raincoat and umbrella. I'll let your imagination run on that one, but your current "so called" President might enjoy it. I felt so sick I immediately walked out. Then there was the infamous "no pan shabu-shabu" restaurant where the waitresses wore no panties and you'd ask them to pick a bottle of whiskey from the top shelf. The traders, many of them married, came to visit us expecting to be brought to such places. You could refuse, but business would not have been so good. Fortunately brokers are almost a thing of the past.

Dean Owen

Dean Owen

4 years ago #14

#11
The line between brokers and traders got quite fuzzy at one stage, as demonstrated by Nick Leeson, who was supposed to be a broker who took orders and executed them on behalf of traders, but ended up busting the world's second oldest merchant bank, Barings. I have been both broker and trader in my career. As for prostitution, well as you know it really is a global thing. In many countries in SE Asia, it is done under the guise of karaoke lounges and the girls mostly come from three nations, Thailand, Vietnam, and China. I don't think it is as bad as perhaps Eastern European nations where there are supposedly prostitution rings where girls are kidnapped and forced into prostitution. Many of the girls here just want to provide for their parents.

Pascal Derrien

Pascal Derrien

4 years ago #13

Modern decadence where sometimes one does not always do what he wants but what he can.... :-) :-(

Dean Owen

Dean Owen

4 years ago #12

#8
Unfortunately the $500 steakhouse was ultimately banned as an entertainment destination in my bank. But if ever you are in Tokyo and want one of the best steaks in the World, do look up Arakawa in Shinbashi, listed as the Forbes most expensive restaurant in the World two years running: http://www.aragawa.jp/english.html http://www.forbes.com/2006/10/11/food-restaurants-dining-life-travel-cx_sb_1012table.html

Lisa Gallagher

Lisa Gallagher

4 years ago #11

Wow, deep story you shared Dean Owen. I don't use this term lightly but very fitting since it's used in your buzz.. What dicks and that's an understatement. Those poor, innocent Asian girls. I wonder how many were forced to go with these rich men and bring the money back to 'another' person? I'm glad you had a conscience. Experiences make or break us. We all have a past, and no one's past is even close to perfect. Maybe this was cathartic to write. So you were a broker or a day trader (or are they the same lol?). I'm not too familiar with trading.

Ken Boddie

Ken Boddie

4 years ago #10

#7
I stumbled into one of these matriarchal palaces on two occasions in Singapore, Dean-san. The first was out of ignorance and boy was my education expanded. On the second occasion .... well youth is wasted on the young!

Dean Owen

Dean Owen

4 years ago #9

#6
I got in trouble with the Yakuza once for taking down their "pink salon" placards put up on street lights in my neighborhood.

Paul Walters

Paul Walters

4 years ago #8

Ah @Dean Owen san !!! A screen jockey , manipulator of markets and adrenaline junkie. believe it or not, I still have friends in the business ( hence the super yacht trip last year) and I , like you avoid their nocturnal shenanigans especially in SE Asia . Still gotta say, sometimes, just sometimes I wouldnt mind a couple of days of the late 80's and early 90's ...twas such a decadent time and I could never really work out who the f@!k was actually paying for the $500 steaks and everything that went with it !! Great piece and as they say, "love your work!!"

Dean Owen

Dean Owen

4 years ago #7

#6
Also a pity that countries like Thailand do nothing to dispel the image. Japan maybe the most hedonistic country on Earth, but the sex industry primarily serve domestic needs and is largely out of bounds to foreigners. But Thailand.... well.... Singapore is cleaning up nicely. Gone are the days when Orchard Towers was called Four floors of whores.

Ken Boddie

Ken Boddie

4 years ago #6

#5
It's a pity that the penny hasn't yet dropped for many of my package holiday Australian compatriots, Dean-san, who continue to ignore (or even disrespect) the intriguing cultures of our Asian neighbours when away from Oz. Perhaps there's a lesson to be learned from the fall of the Roman Empire? 🤔

Dean Owen

Dean Owen

4 years ago #5

#3
All I can say is "Sorry Indonesia". Everything about that weekend of debauchery was wrong and totally disrespectful of the culture, and everything I have done since has been about decloaking the perception that Asia is an Anglo Saxon playground.

Dean Owen

Dean Owen

4 years ago #4

#1
I would trade this regret in a heartbeat. Thanks Devesh.

Ken Boddie

Ken Boddie

4 years ago #3

Your past life of fast gains, big bucks and swinging Richards might have tempted me back in the seventies, Dean-san, when I was travelling out of London. But I'm glad you got out of the expense trail of Roman orgies, even though I must admit to always wanting to command someone to "Peal me a grape". Love your paradoxical assessment that the "industry became gentrified". Conjures up images of brokers opening doors for each other and then stating "after you" prior to each transaction. Another great Owen tale, all the more entertaining because of the unexpected theme of greed and debauchery. I'm also glad that Indonesia appears to have survived the experience of being temporarily 'invaded'. 😊

Devesh 🐝 Bhatt

Devesh 🐝 Bhatt

4 years ago #2

trading one regret to avoid many others could be very regretful. another great buzz. Thanks

Devesh 🐝 Bhatt

Devesh 🐝 Bhatt

4 years ago #1

trading one regret to avoid many others could be very regretful. another great buzz. Thanks

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