Update on April 28, 2017: Awesome screen shot from Twitter, which makes total sense.
I ran into my former colleague Marc Tishfield at lunch yesterday. We used to work together at JP Morgan’s buy side. Then he left for SAC. Then he came back for my analyst, whose career subsequently rocketed far ahead of mine. And then he came back for me.
I knew I was in at SAC when the owner said something very close to, I can’t imagine what I would do with an economist but the other guys seem to want to hire you and I won’t stand in the way.
During lunch, Marc mentioned that he had delivered the commencement address to the Stony Brook economics graduates. His comments are a lot of fun and he agreed to allow me to publish them. I didn’t feel like waiting for spring ,which is usually the season for this sort of thing. I hope this tides over all four of my readers while I go walking.
All you kids out there wanting to get into finance, pay attention to this.
Guest post, by Marc Tishfield
Comments to Stony Brook Economics department commencement
First of all, I want to thank the Stony Brook administration and faculty for inviting me and giving me the honor to speak with all of you today… I’m sure today is as special of a day for you as it was for me 25 years ago…. It feels like it was only a few years back that I was sitting in your place, but I was shocked how fast time flies by, when I realized it was 25 years ago that I graduated with my economics degree from Stony Brook. I still laugh and joke with the friends I made here at Stony Brook when we re-live our days on campus, like it was yesterday….
I lived in James, in H quad for my 4 years here and I loved it.. from playing every intra-mural sport imaginable to cramming for my economics exams, I still have and re-live many great memories. Enough of the sentimental long winded stuff from this boring stony brook alum standing up here and talking to you guys..
I’m sure some, if not all of you, are wondering who and why is this guy, Marc Tishfield standing up here giving us this speech at this year’s economics ceremony? Quite frankly, I’ve been wondering the same thing! Surely, Stony Brook could find one of the Billionaires or athletes with Stony Brook affiliation like Jim Simons, Glenn Dubin or Joe Nathan.. or some Nobel Prize winner to speak with you today.. Sorry, you are stuck with me for a short while today!! I’m not a Billionaire nor a nobel prize winner.. at least not yet..
My story is an interesting one, at least some people think it is.. – others are likely bored to tears by it.. I was one of those students that actually knew I wanted to study economics and finance well before I even arrived at Stony Brook as a freshman in the fall of 1983. And, I knew I wanted to work on wall street from the time I was 6 or 7 years old. My dad used to sit me on the floor in our living room and open the NY Post to the stock pages and taught me how to look up stocks then quizzed me and timed me as I looked up the stocks we owned. He taught me to look up the stocks that we wanted to go up and those that we wanted to go down.. Believe me he did not have a lot of free money to speculate with.. Although we lived in a modest 2 family home in a middle class section of Brooklyn, my Dad loved to speculate on stocks in his spare time from the 2 jobs he held down. He worked for the City of New York in the real estate division and worked nights and Sundays as a tax accountant.
My Dad was not around to see me graduate from Stony Brook nor achieve professional success, but I know he would have been proud of me for that and even prouder that I am also a good Husband, Father, Brother, Uncle and friend.
I started working when I was 13 years old, first in a Hallmark store organizing the greeting cards, then as a delivery boy in the local pharmacy, then as a camp counselor, busboy, I did it all to make a few extra bucks. But it was not until the summer of 1984, after completing my Freshman year at Stony Brook did I get my first big break when I landed a summer job unloading trucks at the local Toys R Us. Yes, that was a big break! The laws of supply and demand that I learned from Professor Dawes in Economics 101 started to pay big dividends that summer.
Most of you likely never heard of Cabbage Patch Dolls or Cabbage patch kids but your parents might remember them. Cabbage patch dolls were “the it” toy in the summer of 1984. So much so, that the $20-$25 doll was impossible to find at any store, anywhere. But, as an employee at toys r us, I was able to buy them when they were available and since I unloaded the trucks when they pulled up to the store, no one knew better than me, when they were available. So, I would buy 5 at a time for about $100 – a ton of dough back then, considering I was working 30 hours a week at $3.50 an hour!
But, my neighbors were offering me $100 to $150 for each doll to buy for their own kids!!! I’m like this is awesome!! I’m making $500 per week buying and selling dolls while I am getting paid about $100 per week unloading trucks!! I was trying to be discreet while making this windfall since the Psych majors I was working with clearly did not fully grasp the laws of supply and demand. But, believe me, Psych majors have an edge over us in some places.. there is clearly a psychological and social element to financial markets and economics too.
In my opinion, it is important to understand that everything just does not always fit perfectly with the results of an econometric model or any model for that matter – the 2007-2009 experience in the global markets proved that point and even perplexed many central bankers, economists and money managers around the world – Believe me, I was one of those greatly perplexed at times too. But, at the end of the day, everything typically comes back to supply and demand.
I told that Toys R Us story during interviews for my next 2 summer jobs while a student at Stony Brook and they actually helped me land the jobs. I worked for Smith Barney answering phones and doing cold calling in the summer of 1985, which is not a fun job and then I landed a paid summer Internship at the Fed in the summer of 1986, just before the start of my senior year at Stony Brook. The summer job at the Fed was a great experience for me and helped me understand what I wanted to do as a professional but landing that job was not easy and actually quite a challenge.
This is where the PPP concept that we studied in International economics came in handy. We all learned in our coursework that PPP stands for “Purchasing Power Parity” but what I found is that using the PPP acronym in your professional life as you are starting out or as you progress really stands for “Pride, Passion and Perseverance” – or in my case as I applied for a job at the Fed, “Pride, Passion and Pain-in-the-ass”.. I’ll explain why..
Like most college kids, I tried to get a good summer job that would help me land a good job after I graduated. I learned through a friend that the Fed had a summer internship program so I called and asked how I could apply. Of course, I called too late and was told that there was no chance since the deadline had passed and they had all of their offers out for the 13 intern slots that year. But, I called twice a week to the same person in Human Resources asking if there was a way I could apply or if I could get my name on a waitlist, etc..
They politely took my info but told me not to keep my hopes up. After about 6 weeks and a dozen phone calls, no email or text messaging back in the mid 80’s… phone calls or old fashioned letters were all you could do. I finally got a phone call in March or April of that year asking me if I was available to come in for an interview in the Open Market Group. I could not believe it. First of all, I would have interviewed for the Short Order Cook position if offered to me, anything to get my foot inside the Fed’s door…yet the one slot they let me interview for was the one I really wanted out of the 13 positions, in the Markets Group!! So, I told my Mom I needed to buy a new suit since the Fed was a serious place and off I went to get ready for prime time.
They gave me the interview schedule and I went to the library and with the help of the librarian, was able to find news stories on one of the senior fed people that was going to be interviewing me. It turned out he worked on the bailout of the Franklin National Bank back then. So, I would be prepared the best I could if somehow that subject came up I walked into my interview, pretty nervous actually and Gary (was his name) sat me down in his large office and asked me the first question.. “So, Marc any idea why I chose you to come in for this interview?” I honestly said I have no idea.. maybe because I was such a pain-in-the-ass by calling twice a week for nearly 2 months…hence the last P in my version of PPP.
Gary said I guess that is partially true but take a look at this pile on my desk. It was about a foot high pile of resumes. He said to me look at this.. All economics, math and finance undergrads from Harvard, Wharton, Yale, MIT, etc.. so why did I choose you?? He said to me, speaking about himself, I grew up in the Bronx, went to SUNY Buffalo Undergrad (then Wharton for business school) and I’m sorting through this pile and mine stood out as not looking like everyone else’s from Ivy league or equivalent schools. And he said to me, this kid is like me and might need a break at least getting his pinkie toe in the door to talk to people that are making hiring decisions.
It turned out that the person who had the internship offer went to work for Salomon Brothers instead and a slot had opened up. During the interview where he asked me basic questions about economics, my interest in the Fed, the Franklin National thing never came up, so I used a technique I like to call “planned spontaneity” and while discussing random topics with him I brought up bank bailouts and he immediately perked up and brought up the Franklin National bank and since I read up on the basics he was shocked that a young kid knew about or cared about such stuff.. After chatting with me, Gary told me my skill set, education and training were as good if not better than most of the Ivy Leaguers he had met with and my passion for going to work for the Fed was clear and they offered me the job the next day after my round of interviews.
I busted my butt all summer, was the first one to show up in the morning, usually last to leave at night and the Fed offered me a full time position before I even went back for my Senior year at Stony Brook. I accepted the offer and spent the next decade working in the Open Market Group and it worked out reasonably well. I loved my job there, still was the first to show up and last to leave and took an insane amount of pride in my work and it paid off as I advanced as rapidly as anyone else had in the history of the Fed. I never claimed to be any smarter than anyone else there, but I knew no one was going to out-work me. The fed has lots of smart people but I cared about what I did, learned from those I thought had tons of knowledge and liked to share it and I loved my job and respected the institution and my colleagues. I ended up running the trading desk and had 40 people working for me. The Fed ended up sending me back to B-school as well to further enhance my knowledge and education too..
Every day while working at the Fed, I would speak with voting members of the FOMC, the Federal Open Market Committee to discuss what was going on in the markets and advise on what appropriate Open Market Operations might be. And, after leaving the Fed, there have been several instances over the years where I have been in meetings with Alan Greenspan, former Chairman of the Fed, Ben Bernanke current Chairman of the Fed and Janet Yellen, current Vice-chairwoman of the Fed and current favorite to be the next Chairwoman and first Chairwoman of the Fed. Yes, they have all asked for my opinion on the markets, Fed policy and economy – however frightening that might be!! I’m not sure if the faculty here today is proud of that or cringing after hearing this…
I left the Fed after about 10 years as I wanted to put my skills further to the test and apply what I learned at the Fed in the financial markets. I tried to read the tea leaves and opportunistically make investments that offered good returns if I was able to forecast the Fed’s actions reasonably well. I worked at a small hedge fund group soon after leaving the Fed, then spent 2 years at JP Morgan before leaving for a large hedge fund named SAC Capital, that was run by a Long Island guy actually! I Spent 6 years there before joining the fund where I work today, Millennium Partners, which is a large multi strategy hedge fund, started by a guy from Brooklyn, named Izzy Englander.
The hedge fund industry is incredibly competitive, employs lots of smart and driven people but is also intellectually stimulating. I focus on what is called Global Macro strategies, where to this day I still try to gauge and price market expectations of the Fed and other central banks and then structure investments where my view differs from what the market implies. I focus mainly on interest rates and related products and my strategies and approach deviates some from my core competency as I get smarter and improve every day yet still. I learn from my mistakes and as a result still tend to improve my skill set yet to this day at a ripe age of 46!!
Now, 25 years after earning my degree here, I find myself learning from the younger talent that I work with as students and young professionals get smarter each and every year as education and technology improves. I promise you that nearly every one of you sitting here today is smarter and better equipped to succeed than I was when I graduated 25 years ago. I realize that times are tough and the economy is a bit slow these past few years, but believe me you are all very well educated and those of you who have not yet landed your dream job – you will. It might even be tough to know today what your dream job really is but you will learn that over time. ..
I really believe that a difference maker in your professional careers is not solely based on education. Yes, Stony Brook is an excellent school and you all have excellent educations, but there are other good schools out there too and other good students and these are the same people you will be facing when you try to land your dream job or a good job on the way to your dream job. My advice is to try and determine what type of job you might enjoy doing or the type of institution you might enjoy working for and then letting them know it.. Through an email, phone call, letter, etc… no need to fake it, just be yourself and have pride in yourself and show passion for what you want to do… and if all that fails. You might need to be just a bit of a pain-in-the-ass too!!
And lastly, I wanted to leave you with a couple of brief thoughts. One on a personal level and one on a professional level. Look around you, I’m sure you have formed friendships with some of the people sitting here in this room today and I’m certain your experience will be like mine, and you will be very close friends with some of these people 25 years from now as well.. That is just as important and meaningful as earning your degree.
And as you are about to start your professional lives, remember… you, too, can buy and sell Cabbage Patch kids or some other “it toy” on the black market for a huge profit or you too can become the Head Trader for the Fed and you too can work for the most prestigious of banks and top tier hedge funds in the world!! And, you too can be asked to share your thoughts and opinions on the economy and markets with the Chairman of the Federal Reserve.
There is no limit to your upside..
Good luck and Best Wishes!!