Wall Street has a reputation as a cutthroat place with an intense working environment. Those who survive rarely get there on their own, however, and the smartest individuals seek out the advice of those who have come before them. We asked 14 financial veterans to share the best advice they have ever received.
Here's what they had to say.
Mike Mayo, bank analyst at CLSA
The golf adage, "drive for show, putt for dough," means that a long drive looks good, but making a putt is what matters. I was reminded of this not too long ago when I played in my first golf tournament in more than three decades. After reaching the semifinals with my partner, I missed a short (actually, very short) putt on the first sudden-death hole that cost us the match. Ouch! The phrase, applied more generally to my 25-year coverage of the financial industry, is a reminder that attention to the small items matters greatly. As it applies to the companies I cover, the point is that all the flash, flare, and great expectations do not matter if results are not achieved. With investing, it helps to maintain healthy skepticism about whether companies and managers are adept at the small stuff even while winning accolades.
Kelsey Deshler, head of fundamental strategies, alternative fund solutions at Credit Suisse Asset Management
From a colleague/mentor: It's not who you know, it's not what you know—it's who knows you.
Monica DiCenso, U.S. head of equity strategy at J.P. Morgan Private Bank
Some of the best advice I've received in my career was to be the first one in each morning and not to underestimate the power of a good sense of humor.
I'm not a natural early bird but have become one. It was a big advantage early in my career on Wall Street to get in early; I always felt like I started my day on strong footing and became indispensable to my bosses as they knew if something happened overnight, I was there early to handle it. Also, NYC traffic is much more sane early in the morning, so cabs are always available.
On the flip side—don't take things too seriously and always be able to laugh at yourself. People do business with others [whom] they like. Being able to make good conversation and see the lighter side of things (and maybe even make a pop culture reference on occasion) has been a huge point of differentiation and helped me stand out from the crowd.
Bob Douglass, chief operating officer of U.S. credit trading at Barclays
In my first annual review after I started trading, I was told: “You’re doing a great job and your trading is great, but my biggest concern for you is that you’re far too nice for this job.” It’s a funny piece of advice, but in things like transactional finance and business in general, you have to make tough decisions and in those scenarios, you can’t be everything to everyone. So, if you’re a natural nice guy, this is not somewhere where being nice all the time works perfectly.
Alan Freudenstein, co-head of Credit Suisse Asset Management’s CS NEXT Fund
From former Credit Suisse vice-chairman and CFO, and current Board member Dick Thornburgh: Never burn a bridge on Wall Street.
Dan Greenhaus, chief global strategist at BTIG
In general, I think the best piece of advice to give or receive is to be nice to everyone, because the people you see on the way up might be the same ones you see on the way down. That’s a rule to live by more generally. At the same time, something I’ve learned through the years is to work really, really hard and take nothing for granted. The financial services industry is a great equalizer of sorts. No one’s seat is assured, no job is guaranteed. You’re only as good as your last trade or call, so if you’re not working hard, not putting in the time and effort necessary to excel, then someone else is going to come along and do it for you.
David Rosenberg, chief economist and strategist at Gluskin Sheff & Associates
Best pieces of advice I have ever received were from Bob Farrell: "When all the experts and forecasts agree, something else is going to happen" and from Don Cox: "Short the story on page A1 and go long the story on page C16 on its way to page A1."
Both of these legends were mentors of mine. And what this sage advice speaks to is of the necessity and discipline of leaning against the herd mentality and, no matter good or bad the news may be, assessing at all times the extent to which such news is already being discounted by the markets—in other words, how much is "in the price."
Kate Moore, chief investment strategist at J.P. Morgan Private Bank
One of my first managers told me, “you should never make yourself so critical that (most of) your job can’t be done without you.” At the core, his message was about teamwork, information sharing, and collaboration. You can be a strong leader while still trusting your team and sharing successes and failures together. But his message was also about building a framework for a better work-life balance as well as creating space to take advantage of new career opportunities. Successful people should be able to confidently name their replacements when they are offered new opportunities.
J.C. Parets, founder of Eagle Bay Capital
Check your ego at the door. You don't know anything. Fortunately, as market participants, it is not about being right; it's only about making money. Keeping losses small and letting winners run is how to profit. We cannot have an ego. We don't care to be "right." We only care about making money. If you are in the market for any other reason outside of "to make money," you are very confused.
Liz Ann Sonders, chief investment strategist at Charles Schwab
The best advice I ever received was from Louis Rukeyser. The very first time I appeared on Wall Street Week in 1997, he asked me whether my parents were in my business, to which I replied no. He then told me that when I came out on set for the interview with him to talk about the market and the economy, I should make sure my parents would understand what I was talking about. Sage advice I’ve tried to adhere to in my career.
David Schawel, vice president and portfolio manager at Square 1 Bank
I've received dozens of pieces of advice over my career, but a few things stand out. Being the smartest person isn't something to strive after, as there will always be someone, somewhere, smarter. Rather, focus on having intellectual curiosity, a willingness to learn, and an open mind about what areas of the market are interesting.
Torsten Sløk, chief international economist at Deutsche Bank Securities
The best investment advice I have heard is to “Buy when the news is the worst.” This advice holds when you think about companies, sovereign bonds, and currencies. It forces you to think about scenarios and whether things can get worse and then assigning probabilities to the likelihood of different outcomes.
David Wessel, director of the Hutchins Center on Fiscal & Monetary Policy at the Brookings Institution
The best advice I ever got was in college. My alma mater, Haverford, is a Quaker school, and it was there that I first heard the Quaker saying, “Speak Truth to Power.” It helped inform our Honor Code, which is so valuable and helps bring ethics in the workplace. It is important to treat others respectfully, which I also learned from the Honor Code. I gained a sense of what is right and to practice ethics on the little things, as well as the big things, and to stand up for what is right.
Jonathan Wilmot, head of macro investments at Credit Suisse Asset Management
If you can't manage your own emotions, you'll never be able to manage money. And if you assume the markets are smarter than you, you might just end up being smarter than them.
On life: (from my father):
Most things worth doing are worth doing slowly.