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April 25, 2006

From Glean to Glimmer: Trading has changed, but opportunities still exist

By Brian Pears

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  • From Glean to Glimmer: Trading has changed, but opportunities still exist

Sell when you can, you are not for all markets.

"As You Like It," by William Shakespeare

Early in my career, I was named to an advisory committee at one of the exchanges. Although it was honor to be chosen, I'm not sure how much I brought to the table, given my experience.

One benefit for me was meeting the other committee members, many of whom were accomplished, intelligent, and above all, successful people. By a sort of osmosis, I learned much about the business of equity trading and how one thrives within it.

Entering such circles led me to a number of generalizations about the people I interacted with on these committees. It seemed to me then, and seems to be even truer today, that the leaders in this industry share a sense of calm and optimism about the future of equity trading. Whether a function of experience or responsibility, these traders seem to have heard it all and seen it all. As a result, they don't sweat the small stuff.

Achievers

They typically share another common trait. When asked how their business is going, they usually mutter something polite about things being tough. (Unless they're talking to the competition, of course.) But when you look in their eyes, you can see the gleam that emanates from success. The professionals who survive in this industry last through difficult markets. When times are tough, they do comparatively well, and they know it.

Many of these people are still in the business, and I've seen some of them recently. They are still positive, passionate people. Despite whatever success they've achieved, they are still just as smart and committed as they ever were. But that gleam is diminished, or in some cases, gone completely. It's as if the joy of trading has been drained out of them. Even these people-filled with a hope fed by consistent achievement-are having a hard time getting excited about the future of our business.

What's more, others aren't even on Wall Street anymore. Some have retired, but others have been asked to leave. Some have even parted ways with very large, very successful firms. These firms are of the type that used to offer a sort of tacit lifetime employment to big producers. The goal for many sell-side traders was to work hard, build a transportable book of clients, and then land a job at one of the top-ten firms on the Street. Once you got in, you were thought to be set for life. No one is set like that anymore. There may not have been many sure things in the past; there are none now.