“Not all sales managers are bottom- feeding lowlifes,” writes Michael Sears in his Wall Street thriller, “Black Fridays.”
“The politicians are the ones who last -- the two-fisted hand-shakers, the ass-kissers, the promise-breakers, the glory- hounds, the self-promoters.”
Sears should know. After a stint as an actor, he spent two decades in the bond business. Now, at 62, he’s published his first novel, starring former hotshot Jason Stafford, who was sent to prison for “accounting irregularities.”
After serving his two-year term, Stafford starts a new career as an investigator for an investment firm.
We spoke at Bloomberg world headquarters in New York.
Lundborg: There you were onstage, voicing “To be or not to be,” and suddenly Wall Street beckoned?
Sears: My phone rang late at night -- can I be at this club at 6 a.m. for a call wearing my disco outfit?
I was 30 years old and a trained classical actor, and I thought, “What am I doing? Where am I going?”
Lundborg: How did you make the transition from acting to trading?
Sears: Through a Columbia MBA -- I went back to school.
Lundborg: What was the best part of being on Wall Street?
Sears: I would get really charged up. It was fun watching for an opportunity when it was panic all around.
Lundborg: So why leave?
Sears: I developed all kinds of physical things that were feeding on stress -- back issues and various other things. And I realized the mental muscles and the physical muscles were worn out. I was done.
Lundborg: What inspired your plot?
Sears: I was reading the Wall Street Journal and saw the names of some people I knew from way back -- they’d just been pulled in on this very large conspiracy for what really wasn’t a lot of money.
Some of these guys were making a couple of million dollars a year every year and so they were putting a couple of hundred thousand dollars aside or something. It was like, why?
Lundborg: Free money?
Sears: Free money and they never thought they’d get caught. And except for a couple of accidents, they wouldn’t have gotten caught. It went on for decades. It could’ve gone on for decades more.
Lundborg: When Jason walks onto a trading floor, he feels “younger, smarter and fearless.” You say money moving quickly is a drug that doesn’t leave your system.
Sears: It’s an adrenaline boost, it’s probably a testosterone boost, and it’s not just on trading floors.
When I walk on the streets of Hong Kong, I feel the same way about it. It’s transactions everywhere happening all the time and the sight of so many Rolls Royces on tiny little streets.
Lundborg: There are always rock-star positions on Wall Street: one decade it’s investment bankers, another it’s hedge fund managers. What’s the best job now?
Sears: I think we’re going through a big sea change. There was a lot of financial engineering that we created through the 1980s and ’90s, and I don’t think the technology or the creativity is there to do a whole lot more with any of that.
I don’t think right now there’s a sexy place to be on Wall Street. For the next few years or possibly the next decade, it’s going to be a different environment.
Lundborg: Your next book is about Ponzi schemes -- is it inspired by Madoff?
Sears: It’s a combination. The book opens with Jason being hired by the family of a man who ran a huge Ponzi scheme to find missing money. Not everyone in the family is happy about his presence.
Through this, we get to explore how the Ponzi scheme affects a lot of other people and how many lives are really turned upside down.
(Zinta Lundborg is an editor for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)
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