My Eastern European grandparents arrived in this country penniless in the early 1900s. I'm the second generation to be born here. I became interested in Wall Street after a high school teacher got me hooked on economics. I worked my way through college as a waiter and perfected the art of selling at that job. After graduating in 1979, I talked my way into a job as a financial advisor at Drexel Burnham Lambert.
One day, a man who wasn't well-dressed shuffled in. No one wanted to deal with him. Since I was broker of the day, it was my turn. The man had emigrated from Europe and amassed a small fortune. He became my biggest client. Ten years later, when I was no longer a broker, I got a letter from his daughter with the news that he had passed away in Israel. She was writing to tell me that her father and the family appreciated my help in working with them. You don't really understand the impact you can have on someone's life until you hear something like that. Being remembered like that makes it all worthwhile.
In 1990 I was one of the youngest vice presidents ever at Paine Webber. The company hosted a dinner at Ellis Island to celebrate the opening of the island as a museum. Don Marron, who was chairman at the time, took the executive team to the dinner. Sitting at a table with my colleagues, I got a chill because of what the event signified. My grandparents had passed through the building two generations earlier with nothing but the clothes on their backs, and there I was, their grandson, at a dinner with white tablecloths.
My father was an advertising director so I have some creative DNA in my bones. Drawing from my years in this business, I've been writing a book called Secrets of the Trade about the fall of a top wholesaler and his comeback.
I consider myself a Marco Polo when it comes to Wall Street. After Paine Webber, I held management positions at Nicholas-Applegate, Manulife and, also Dreyfus. I was national sales manager at Lincoln Financial Group before joining Legg Mason a year ago in a dream job.
I've spent the largest part of my career in the accumulation phase during the 1980s and 1990s. Now we're seeing a paradigm shift as baby boomers move from accumulation to distribution. It's going to require a new way of engaging clients, and tremendous innovation in the way we create solutions for them. I'm wildly optimistic about the future. It's exciting. I wish I were 24 again and just entering the business.
As Told to Pat Olsen