| The Real Deal |
By Sandy Weill and Judah S. Kraushaar
Genre: Business & Money
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Somehow, I entered into many of my biggest deals over the years in May. The cycle seemed as regular as the seasons: another year, another deal. My colleagues insisted I'd purposely announce an acquisition by Memorial Day simply to wreck their summer vacation plans and demand that we roll up our sleeves with yet another big merger. Looking back on my very first deal, though, I barely could have imagined possessing that sort of sway over other people's lives.
For four years, my friend Arthur Carter and I dreamed of starting our own company. Arthur was a fledgling investment banker at Lehman Brothers while I had made my way from Bear Stearns to Burnham & Company as a young stockbroker. Commuting into Manhattan each morning to our respective jobs, we talked incessantly of pooling our resources and opening our own business. It was the late 1950s; I was in my mid-twenties; and the Space Age was upon us. American industry was benefiting from an explosion of new technologies, and prosperity was in the air. The promise of a new decade was at hand, and the stock market was surging. We had a limited perspective on the securities business, but we were young, optimistic, and infused with self-confidence.
As we imagined our new business, we looked to Allen & Company, the prestigious merchant bank. Charles Allen had made a fortune investing in start-up companies and profiting as the companies in which his firm had ownership stakes sold out to the public. We were drawn to that sort of enterprise but knew we didn't want to stop there. I had experience selling securities to individuals and figured a brokerage business alongside a merchant bank would cover our day-to-day operating costs.
How to produce sufficient cash flow to have enough left over to feed our families soon became our major challenge. Before long, we effectively solved that problem by bringing in two additional partners, Roger Berlind and Peter Potoma. Like me, Roger and Peter were brokers who could be relied upon to generate a steady stream of business while we'd hunt for the episodic and lucrative investment banking deal.
Opening day for Carter, Berlind, Potoma & Weill was thrilling. It was May 2, 1960. We had found a small no-frills office with an address that oozed respectability within sight of the New York Stock Exchange: 37 Wall Street. Along with a newly hired secretary, the four of us spent our first day in cramped quarters opening boxes, getting our phone lines working, and calling as many clients as we could to announce our new venture. Conscious of our young age-we were all in our twenties- Peter Potoma had suggested that we buy hats and black umbrellas so that we might appear older. After all, with our own money on the line, credibility and bringing in new accounts would be more important than ever.
Shortly after we set up shop, the four of us and our wives convened at Arthur's home on Long Island to celebrate. It was a festive occasion, and we all openly shared our aspirations. To this day, I remember the others stressing over and over their desire to become wealthy. Given that Joanie and I were raising two toddlers and lived nearly hand to mouth, the talk was certainly seductive. Still, what I remember most from that dinner was my declaration that the money should be secondary-what mattered more to me was to build a great firm: one that would lead the industry, employ lots of people, endure over many years, and importantly, command respect.
Over the next forty-three years, I never altered my priorities. I don't recall how my partners reacted to my idealism that evening. It was probably a good thing that none had known me in my younger years. Had they been more familiar with my up-and-down experiences growing up and my family background, I'm sure they would have snickered at my outburst and accused me of hubris. In truth, setting off with my new partners amounted to a genuine coming of- age. Being my own boss was empowering and nerve-wracking all at the same time. It allowed me to dream, but it also instilled discipline, self-confidence, and a work ethic the likes of which I had never consistently mustered before.
I'm still amazed I was able to summon the confidence to start my own business. I was shy as a child and through all my years of schooling was at best an uneven student. My parents never enjoyed a close relationship, and neither represented a particularly good role model. And I lacked the family connections that gave many of my college classmates and early colleagues that certain swagger as they approached their first jobs.
I was born on March 16, 1933, and lived in a modest three-story home in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn until I was ten. My mother's parents owned the home and lived on the first floor with my Aunt Rose, while my family lived in two bedrooms on the second level. The third floor was reserved for tenants. Since I was meek and introverted, I depended heavily on an Irish nanny, Miss Heally, with whom I shared a room and who doted on me so much that I almost looked to her as my real mother. Our neighborhood was filled with Italian, Jewish, and Irish kids, but I never went out of my way to make friends. Between my shyness and reliance on my nanny, I must have been sort of a sissy. It was always easier to talk to Miss Heally or play with my younger sister, Helen.
Summers were special, as we spent them in Peekskill, New York, then a largely agricultural community on the Hudson River. My mother's father originally had owned a hotel there; by the time I was born, he had sold it and bought a farm. It was a terrific escape from the noise and hubbub of Brooklyn. The farm was a gathering point for my extended family, which included my mother's four siblings and their spouses and children. While my mother would move up for the full summer, dad commuted from his city job on weekends. Helen and I had a great time at that farm swimming in the pond, learning to milk cows, fishing, and racing down a sweeping hill in our matching red wagons.
By the time I knew them, my maternal grandparents were already well on in years. In his prime, though, my grandfather, Philip Kalika, must have been a risk taker with good business sense. He had grown up in what is now Poland but then was part of Russia. Though he had been engaged to someone from his hometown, he met my grandmother, Riwe Schwartz, while serving in the Russian army. Falling in love, my grandfather never returned home and instead married my grandmother and settled in a village northwest of Warsaw. Before long, with three of their five children born, including my three-year-old mother, they emigrated to the United States, entering through Ellis Island in 1908.
I don't know the story of how my grandfather went from being a penniless newcomer to his later prosperity; by 1919, he had bought his first home in Brooklyn (the house in which I grew up) and by 1926 opened his own business mass-producing black mourning dresses. Somehow, the company thrived through the Depression years to the point where my grandfather was investing in hotels and farmland and giving his children trips abroad for high school graduation presents.
My grandmother played the role of supportive wife-she was a tiny lady and very old-world in her ways. However, she knew how to juggle the household and raise her kids with a strong hand. I never had the chance to understand what lay behind my grandfather's business success since he was in failing health by the time I knew him. All I recall is an old man suffering from consumption and spitting constantly into an oatmeal box.
My grandparents' children followed fairly predictable routes. My uncles joined the family business while my mother and aunts stayed close to home. My mother, Etta, was an old-fashioned Jewish mother-she cooked and cleaned and was always loving. Her family meant everything. Like her mother, she physically was short of stature and unsophisticated in her ways. Shy to the point of being socially awkward, she never liked going out and was given to housedresses and hairnets. She never learned to drive and was a penny-pincher by nature, often walking ten blocks if she could buy something for a few cents cheaper. Until the day she died in 1994, she never used a credit card.
My mother was no great intellect, yet she had a terrific head for numbers and always was concerned that Helen and I should have a good education. Maybe it was because of her basic frugality, but my mother had an unbelievable knack for memorizing and calculating figures, and she taught me at a very early age about arithmetic before it was called modern math. To this day, I can manipulate numbers in my head with ease.
As a child, I certainly didn't appreciate the mismatch, but my father and mother were worlds apart. I see now that theirs had to have been an arranged marriage of some sort. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if my father was attracted to my mother because of her family's money. After their wedding in 1932, Max "Mac" Weill went to work with my maternal grandfather in the dressmaking business-accommodating his new son-in- law, my grandfather changed the company name to Kalika & Weill.
Over the years, my relationship with my father would change dramatically, and I'd come to resent him in many ways. As a child, though, I adored him. He was tall and athletic and enjoyed the gift of an ebullient personality. I marveled at his gregarious nature, his terrific sense of humor, and his ease with people. Like my mother, he had been born in Poland and came to America as a child-insisting he hailed from more aristocratic stock, he used to contend (I assume tongue in cheek) that his family had migrated to Poland from Alsace.
Unlike my mother's family, my paternal grandparents remain largely a mystery. My grandmother died at a young age, and we didn't have much to do with my grandfather since my mother didn't enjoy his company. I know that my grandfather was a religious man with little money. After the death of his second wife, he apparently married again, this time to a disabled cousin as a mitzvah. I don't know much beyond those few facts.
By the outbreak of the Second World War, my father had split off from my grandfather and had established his own dressmaking business. For a while, his business thrived. I admired his work ethic and took note that he seemed more prosperous than anyone else in the family. Sadly, though, disaster suddenly struck. To the eyes of a tenyear- old, little made sense. By my early twenties, though, I pieced together what happened in this period. In the early 1940s, my father had taken advantage of wartime price controls for personal profit. He was caught by the Office of Price Administration for buying raw materials at controlled prices and then selling the goods on the black market at an inflated price rather than producing dresses for a fixed price as the rules dictated. He was convicted and given a probationary sentence.
My parents did their best to protect Helen and me from those dif- ficult events. In 1943, for instance, we learned abruptly that the family was moving to Miami Beach. Our parents told us only that we had to move there for business reasons. In truth, my father sought to gain physical distance from his legal troubles and probably felt it was too risky to stay in business for himself. I learned much later that he secretly maintained a stake in the garment business in New York by having others front for him.
I had mixed feelings about our move to Miami. Emotionally, I was uprooted from my comfortable surroundings and experienced a sense of loss at being told I would no longer have Miss Heally taking care of me. I was devastated as though I had lost a parent. Joanie contends this forced separation from my surrogate mother had a deep psychological impact on me for the rest of my life. She often reminds me how I consistently attached great importance to personal loyalty, both in business and in my personal life. While I don't know if in fact there was a lasting impact, my world certainly was turned upside down.
Arriving in Florida, we settled into a house on Royal Palm Avenue five blocks from the ocean. My parents insisted that I drop back a year in school but that did little to improve my academic performance. Over the three years we spent in Florida, I was a terrible student. On the other hand, I enjoyed the sunshine and was constantly outside riding my bike or playing basketball with my nextdoor neighbor, Frankie. All of the physical activity helped me realize that I had natural athletic abilities. Within a year, I took on my first job, delivering newspapers, and used to pay Helen a penny a paper to act as my assistant and roll each paper. I proved good at sales and making on-time deliveries and soon began winning contests for new subscriptions.
As I reached my teens, I became conscious of my father's boisterous personality. He dominated our household, always forcing my mother to take a back seat. He'd often embarrass me in front of my friends by telling lewd jokes or pointing out my inadequacies. In restaurants, he'd flirt with pretty waitresses and extravagantly grab the check when we ate with friends. These were little things that were harbingers of a gradually diminishing reverence I'd have for him over the next several years. The louder he became, the more I shrank back in shyness and passivity.
In 1947, my father surprised us again by announcing that we were heading back to New York. He had decided to start a new business with a partner importing steel. In the years following the war, New York suffered one of its periodic housing shortages, and we struggled to find a place to live. Reluctantly, my father moved the family into his father's house in Brooklyn for a year. One of my great-aunts already shared the house with my grandfather and his second wife, and quarters would be tight. At the same time, I was still doing poorly in school-in fact, my freshman high school grades in Florida were horrible. To ease the housing crunch and also acknowledge my scholastic difficulties, my parents decided I should go to boarding school upon our return.
From our summers spent in Peekskill, my parents were familiar with the Peekskill Military Academy. With little time to research alternatives and my parents' sense that I might benefit from a disciplined environment, I was enrolled as a lowly plebe. As had been the case when we moved to Florida, I was put back a year, while my more academically inclined sister was skipped forward. We might have been three years apart in age, yet grade-wise she was steadily catching up on me.
Originally, I was supposed to go to PMA only for a year until my parents found more permanent living accommodations, but I really took to the school and insisted on staying the full four years even after my family found a home of their own in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. Military school was fantastic for me. There was plenty of hazing my first year, and I learned how to take criticism before dishing it out, a skill with lifelong value. The attractive campus with its ivycovered redbrick buildings did little to detract from the administration's insistence on tight discipline and hard work. We attended classes six days a week, and there were strictly enforced curfews. The discipline was exactly what I needed.
Early on, I had the good fortune to develop a close relationship with Clare Frantz, who was my Latin teacher and tennis coach. Tall and lean, the Germanic Frantz took an active interest in me and motivated me to improve my study habits. He worked with me both in the classroom and on the tennis court and tremendously boosted my self-confidence. Unlike my father, who always seemed immersed in business, Clare and I related well to one another.
He had an attractive wife, and the two would often invite me to their on-campus house for dinner. It didn't take long for rumors to fly that I was having an affair with Clare's wife, but the gossip simply reflected the fantasies of my classmates. By my second semester, my academic performance had begun to improve visibly. By the third term, I really took off, and my grades consistently ranked in the top two or three out of a class of thirty-five for the rest of my years at PMA. One year, I ranked top in my class and earned high honors.
PMA also allowed me to experiment with a variety of extracurricular activities. For a time, I worked for the school newspaper, The Reveille, but I wasn't much of a reporter. Being a bass drummer in the marching band was much more to my liking. I still remember marching in a Columbus Day parade down the main street in Peekskill with my large bass drum hoisted from my shoulders-a German shepherd leapt from the curb and began nipping at my heels before sinking its teeth into my leg. Undeterred, I insisted on finishing the parade before attending to my wound.
With Frantz's steady encouragement, I worked at my tennis game with passion and soon excelled. I loved representing the school in various competitions. By my senior year, I won the Westchester County singles tournament for private and parochial school teenage boys and was invited to join the Junior Davis Cup team from New York, which gave me the opportunity to practice in the professional stadium in Forest Hills with Pancho Segura, then one of the sport's great professionals. The thrill of those tennis experiences represented a high point of my high school years.
I matured tremendously during my teenage years at Peekskill Military Academy. My teachers and peers liked me and gave me two nicknames: "Duck" (because they claimed I waddled) and "Mr. Five O'Clock Shadow." By my junior year I was appointed an officer with the rank of first lieutenant. Being on the battalion staff accorded me certain privileges such as officer's quarters (still awfully spartan), later curfews, and opportunities to head into Peekskill on weekends.
I also discovered girls while at PMA. My first experience came the summer after my sophomore year when I worked as a lifeguard at a hotel near my grandparents' farm. There I met a college-aged girl who took more than a casual interest in me. The relationship was brief, but she gave a terrific boost to my self-esteem at a time when I was figuring out my place in the world. Later, I had my first real girlfriend when I met Marian Rogers. Neighbors of my parents were friends with Marian's folks and made the introduction. For the next two years, Marian and I saw one another steadily-she'd come up to PMA on weekends to attend dances and other social functions.
Marian's father owned a pipe and tobacco store in Manhattan. He taught me the art of breaking in a pipe and how to distinguish good tobacco. Soon I became his unofficial distributor in Peekskill. I was the only one with this special blend of tobacco, and it was 100 percent legal! I still have a black-and-white photo of me wearing a sweater and leaning back in a comfortable chair with crossed legs, confidently clutching my pipe. Whatever serenity that picture may have shown, I never felt it once I headed off into the real world.
During my years at PMA, my parents were regular visitors. Sometimes they'd arrive together, while on other occasions my father would drive up alone. Either way, my father never failed to make his presence known to all and always eclipsed my mother when they came together. Chomping on a big cigar, he'd typically beckon my friends and regale them with stories and jokes. I was embarrassed and proud all at the same time.
By now, my father was engaged in his steel importing business operating under the name the American Steel Company. To outward appearances, the business seemed hugely successful as my father lived extravagantly. He drove expensive cars, owned tons of clothes, and took a haircut and manicure weekly. I learned later, though, that all was not as it seemed. The business was highly cyclical and did well only during steel industry strikes, which pushed up prices and profit margins for my father's company. Also, working at the company one summer, I noticed my father and his partner seemed constantly to be in a competition on who could run up the largest expense account. I thought such a practice represented a bad culture for building a business, and it troubled me that the company was absorbing personal expenditures.
These were observations that would only hit home in later life as I reflected on my father's business practices. For the most part, I respected my father greatly in those years and felt he could offer me important life lessons. Indeed, during another summer, he arranged a job for me in a pocketbook factory doing piecework installing metal fasteners. All my co-workers were hardworking and friendly minorities who I realized were locked into their menial jobs. My father made a point to tell me, "If you don't do well in school, this is the type of job that will be available to you. If you want more, you have to apply yourself." On another occasion driving back to New York from a stay in Florida, he put us up at the fancy Mayflower Hotel in Washington. Seeing how I enjoyed the hotel's luxurious appointments, my father stressed that "as an adult, you'll only get to enjoy such nice things if you're willing to work very hard." These were simple statements, but somehow the words hit home.
By early 1951, my days at Peekskill Military Academy were quickly drawing to a close, and I knew it was time to think about my future. After a weak start, I finished nearly at the top of my class, which taught me a valuable lesson in the importance of self-discipline. My hard work paid off, for I was accepted at both Harvard and Cornell. I felt my aptitude lay in math and science, as I particularly excelled in those subjects at PMA, and I was also interested in metallurgy thinking that I might eventually join my father in his business. Accordingly, I enrolled in Cornell's well-regarded Engineering School. As a graduation gift, my ever extravagant father presented me with a yellow Plymouth convertible in which I drove off to find my destiny.
My high school years were terrific, but they conveyed a false sense of security. In fact, the following four years were turbulent to say the least. Yes, I'd meet and fall in love with Joanie, but I'd also recognize that I was not cut out for my chosen field of study, and more important, face the crushing news of the disintegration of my parents' marriage. I quickly came to realize that I could never take the future for granted and that attaining one's goals only comes from hard work and self-reliance.
My first experiences at Cornell were deceptively enjoyable. Freed from the rigid restraints of life in military school, I settled into the freewheeling social scene and enjoyed dating and drinking with friends. Cornell had an extensive fraternity system, and I quickly decided to pledge Alpha Epsilon Pi. In the 1950s, fraternities were almost entirely segregated. All I cared about was feeling at home with the members who happened to be Jewish and predominantly from the New York area. I was a skillful Ping-Pong player, which helped boost my popularity with the older brothers. I integrated in no time into the fraternity's social scene, which included great weekend parties with sister sororities. With my yellow convertible and my father's credit card, I found it easy to impress my dates, and I soon learned the joys of weekend road trips with friends to neighboring schools.
The freedom was seductive, but it didn't take long for the reality to set in that Cornell was a place of academic rigor. In my orientation to the metallurgy program, I recall the department head asking us to "look to your left and right because most of you won't be here at graduation." It was an early lesson in how not to motivate people. Before long, I realized firsthand that his admonition was no joke. I may have done well in math and science at PMA but I now was thrown in with truly exceptional students, and I began to struggle.
Things got progressively worse. I'll never forget my physics midterm in which we had to determine where a cannonball would land in relation to a group of hills. Though I wasn't cheating, I happened to notice my neighbor was drawing a landing spot across his piece of paper on a far hill whereas the best I could figure the shell would barely hit the nearest hill. Stumped, I decided to write on my paper that I couldn't answer the question because "my cannon was malfunctioning." When the graded paper came back, I received a zero alongside a sarcastic comment from the professor.
By November, I was doing so poorly that I decided to drop out. I went home for Thanksgiving and told my parents I'd transfer to NYU, an idea they acceded to so long as I'd commit to finishing college. Within weeks, however, Cornell sent me a letter saying that the school had set up a special probationary program for eleven students that would allow me to switch to a liberal arts program to which I might be better suited. I took the opportunity and subsequently went to summer school at the University of Wisconsin and Cornell to make up for my lost semester. Fortunately, the switch was just what I needed. I ended up avoiding science classes and instead focused on economics and government. My grades improved, and I eventually spent my final year taking courses from the graduate business school.
With a more manageable academic load, I began to enjoy college life once more. I took a two-bedroom apartment with three of my fraternity brothers my junior year where we had never-ending bridge tournaments. I figured out how to study just hard enough to get by without sacrificing my active social schedule while my weekend road trips became more regular and far-reaching. By now, Helen was studying at Smith College and had begun dating my roommate Lenny Zucker. He and I often would snag one of our other friends and head off to Massachusetts in search of a good time.
My days of playing the field soon ended abruptly. While I was home for spring recess, my aunt told me of an attractive nineteen-yearold named Joan Mosher whose family had just moved to the neighborhood from California. My solicitous relative suggested I call her for a date. Having just broken up with a girlfriend, I eagerly called Joan to ask her out. I was disappointed when I heard her say, "I have a party that night and won't be able to meet you, but I have a friend who you might like . . ." Undeterred, I replied firmly, "There's no way I'm going out with a blind date set up by a blind date . . . I'll call again."
My steadfastness paid off, and we soon arranged to meet on April Fool's Day 1954. That evening, I was greeted by Joanie's mother, who carefully looked me up and down so she could report to her daughter, who was strategically waiting in her room-the big issue at that moment was to determine my height so Joanie could decide whether she should wear heels. In a flash, I saw an energetic and very beautiful girl in flat-soled shoes come bounding down the hall. On the way to drinks at the White Cannon Inn in Freeport, Joanie ribbed that I was nothing like the fair-haired boys she knew in California and joked that at least I didn't have a New York accent.
From the first moment, I was drawn in completely. I felt relaxed and comfortable around her. I had done my share of dating, but no one attracted me like Joanie. She was beautiful and vivacious, confident, full of easy conversation, and quick with a joke. The entire evening proved exciting and intoxicating. Neither of us wanted it to end; at nearly 3:00 A.M., we reluctantly agreed it was time to go home. Joanie and I were eager to see each other again. Unfortunately, she had another date for the following evening. I couldn't bear the thought of her seeing someone else, so I decided to cruise by her house with my car's top down to check out her date that night as he picked her up. Joanie probably didn't appreciate the gesture, but I wanted her to know I would not be deterred.
We saw a lot of each other over the next several weeks. Joanie was finishing her junior year at Brooklyn College so we were limited to weekends. She'd either come up to Cornell for one of our bacchanalian fraternity parties or I'd drive to her house. Yet time seemed in short supply. I was receiving reserve officer training (ROTC) during college with the notion that I'd receive an officer's commission in the air force upon my graduation. That summer I was due to report for training in South Carolina. We dated a lot right up to the day I left. We proved to be avid letter writers that summer-each time I'd receive a note from Joanie, she'd enclose my last letter complete with corrections to all my misspelled words. I should have realized then and there that Joanie would make me a better person!
Shortly after my return from boot camp in August, we became engaged and planned for a wedding the following June after my graduation. However, Joanie's parents were not thrilled by their daughter's plans. Her parents were snobbish and never felt I was good enough for their daughter. Their disapproval began with our very first date, as they were upset at my dropping off Joanie in the middle of the night, and I learned later that they kept telling Joanie of their preference for one of her earlier boyfriends. Her folks saw me as someone who came from an uncultured background who hadn't graduated on time and-though brash-didn't seem to have much direction when it came to thinking about the future.
Unfortunately, my parents did little to counter the impression. Around the beginning of 1955, my parents invited the Moshers to their home for dinner. I wasn't there, but Joanie told me it was a dreadful evening. At first my father grew angry at my mother for burning the roast lamb. He then talked about his recent retirement from the steel business and bragged incessantly about the extravagant lifestyle he could afford. He announced he'd give us a car as a wedding present and suggested to Joanie's father that he should give us $3,000. The idea must have struck a nerve as my normally reserved future father-in-law bellowed, "My daughter is not for sale!" From that time forth, I felt nothing I could do would ever redeem me in Joanie's parents' eyes.
It was right after this ill-fated dinner that my world suddenly turned upside down. I was preparing for midterm exams when word came from a family friend that my father had left my mother and had disappeared. The news came like a bolt from the blue. Maybe I should have realized over the years that my parents barely had a relationship, but I took for granted that their marriage was normal. My first instincts were to protect my mother and also to find my father and reason with him why he needed to return home. With the help of a private investigator, I found out that he was in Washington, D.C. Disregarding my two remaining exams, I raced to pick up Helen at Smith, and we drove all night to talk sense into our father. I was mostly shaken up while Helen was clearly resentful.
When we confronted him, we heard his convoluted side of the story. "I haven't been happy for a long time," he declared. "You are now old enough to deal with the change, and it's time for me to think about myself. The reason I left the way I did was that it was the best way not to upset your mother with a bad scene." As if we were not shocked enough, our father went on to confess that he had been seeing another woman for two years, a Hungarian lady named Marian. In an admission that especially incensed me, he let on that he had once arranged secretly for her to sit next to us at the theater so that she could check us out. We argued and cajoled for two days before giving up and deciding we needed to return to New York to console our mother.
My mother hadn't even called to tell me about what had happened out of concern for upsetting me during my exams-that was her way of trying to protect me. When we finally sat down, she did her best to put on a brave face. "Go back to school," my mother implored. I could not fathom how my father could have been so self-centered and cruel to my mother-I was seared by the act of disloyalty and abandonment. I eventually returned to Cornell, but my final semester was a blur as I tried my best to finish my studies while helping my mother with her divorce settlement.
As if my father's abandonment were not enough, I found his stinginess in how he proposed to settle with my mother especially distasteful. He had some wealth at that point but initially offered my mother only the house in Brooklyn. Incredibly, he claimed my mother lived frugally and didn't need much to live on. Eventually, my mother accepted a settlement whereby she received the house and $50,000. She remained in that house for many years. The experience with my father embittered her, and she never remarried.
In subsequent years, I'd alternate between feelings of disdain and guilt in how I'd relate to my father. From the day he left my mother, his shortcomings, if not outright failure, had become glaringly obvious. I was repelled by his lack of commitment and loyalty and his selfcentered approach to life. I could no longer count on joining him in his steel importing business let alone on asking him for financial support. And as an adult, I understood how his unethical practices had killed his first business while his free-spending ways undermined his second company. My father may have taught me the value of working hard, and he may have given me part of his outgoing personality, but ultimately, he became mostly a negative role model-more than anything, I learned firsthand the importance of loyalty and being ethically upright in one's business and personal life.
My life's disruption didn't end with my parents' divorce. Joanie and I had planned our wedding for the week following graduation, but toward the end of the school year, I received more unexpected news. Everyone was receiving their diploma in an envelope ahead of the actual ceremony. When I opened mine, it was empty except for a note claiming I couldn't graduate because of an incomplete in my cost accounting course. I had missed the final exam in order to console my mother after my father's departure. The irony looking back is striking. At the time, however, it was no laughing matter. My advisor had incorrectly assured me that I had sufficient credits to graduate, so the news was devastating. Without my diploma, I wouldn't be eligible to receive my air force commission as planned, and the inability to graduate only lowered me further in the eyes of my prospective in-laws.
As it happened, I was able to make up the missed exam the day after graduation and had to wait until September for my degree to be official. Forty-nine years later, in another ironic twist, I'd receive an original diploma in person from Cornell's president as a gesture of appreciation for my leadership in supporting the university. In accepting the gift, I made sure to remark that Cornell had taught me a powerful lesson about the pitfalls of bureaucracies. I also joked that the diploma "was a little late" and that "I'd carry it home since it seemed to have gotten lost in the mail the last time."
With my future still very much undecided, Joanie and I married in June. Our wedding and honeymoon were terrific. The elegant ceremony, held at the Essex House, was small-about fifty people and mostly family. My college roommate Lenny was the best man while Helen was Joanie's maid of honor. In typical fashion, my father failed to show as he had decided to go to Mexico in order to remarry speedily. He got married to Marian a day after us but sent a photographer so that he could have his own photos of our ceremony. It was for the best since I'm sure his presence would have ruined the day for my mother.
Despite the tussle with my dad earlier that year, Joanie's father told us he'd be willing to spend $5,000 on our wedding and gift and gave us the option on how the sum should be split. We ended up receiving $3,500 in cash. My father-in-law insisted on investing it for us since he didn't respect my judgment on financial matters. In absentia, my father made good on his original promise of giving us a car, a Mercury convertible with defective gears that allowed it only to drive forward. We spent our wedding night at the Essex House before heading to the Concord Hotel in the Catskills where Joanie had won a free week for appearing on a game show.
After our week in the mountains, we headed to Florida for a leisurely two-month vacation where we traveled the length and breadth of the state. Early on, we had an embarrassing incident. I had deposited the cash we received from our wedding in a savings account in New York and thought that the checks I had been writing drew from that account. Much to our surprise, we learned that we had been paying for one motel after another with bouncing checks. I'll never forget arriving at the Jack Tar Motel in Marathon Key and being accused of check fraud. Fortunately, we convinced the authorities of our naïveté and arranged to repay our debts. It was far from an auspicious omen for a future banker!
Returning from our extended honeymoon that August, Joanie and I lived with our parents. We stayed with my mother during the week since her Flatbush home was more convenient to Brooklyn College where Joanie was still finishing her degree. On weekends, we'd shift to Joanie's old bedroom in her parents' home. I had another month before I'd receive my college degree after which I still planned to join the air force.
Living with Joanie's parents was awful. My relationship with them remained strained, as it clearly bothered them that their new son-in-law lacked a job, had a problem graduating from college, and came from a broken home. They didn't think I deserved their daughter and barely masked their feelings. Making matters worse, Joanie's bed was on wheels-there was no carpet, and I always felt like her dad had a stethoscope pressed to the wall. I took a commission job selling The Greater New York Industrial Directory and hated it. After selling only one book in ten days, I quit. With nothing better to do, I'd play arcade games in my free time. I recall making up stories each day about how I had passed the time so I wouldn't lower myself even further in the eyes of Joanie's parents.
One day I passed a Bache & Company office and peered in. The sputtering ticker tape and buzz of activity looked interesting, and I ended up asking my father what he thought about the business. His wife, Marian, soon introduced me to a friend who happened to be a broker at Bear Stearns. Suddenly, I had a job as a runner earning $150 a month. Most of the people with whom I initially worked were on Social Security, and I knew I could do better. I quickly graduated to margin clerk.
The brokerage business was fascinating. I used to spend my lunch break taking in the scene in the "board room," a large bullpen where the brokers worked. There was a two-sided glass partition. On one side were salespeople and traders while on the other stood the firm's legendary leader, Cy Lewis, a big man oozing with power who constantly barked out instructions to his traders. Alongside Cy sat a young Ace Greenberg, who one day would earn his own reputation as Bear's CEO. Being a margin clerk taught me a great deal about how the business operated and instilled a lifelong appreciation regarding the importance of a good back office. As a margin clerk, I received calls from brokers asking how much money their clients had to invest. These were the days before computers, and I had to perform all the calculations by hand, matching securities and figuring borrowing capacity based on margin rates.
I was just getting my feet wet working when I received a notice from the air force that it was time to report for duty. Since more than a year had now passed since my last physical, I was told to go first to Mitchell AFB on Long Island for the required checkup. Unexpectedly, I failed the exam because of a cavity that required root canal work. By the fall of 1955, the administration of Dwight Eisenhower was beginning to reduce the military's manpower requirements, and before I knew it, I was given the option to change my mind on my service obligation.
Ever since I crashed a T-33 flight simulator during my summer boot camp experience a year earlier, I had begun to have second thoughts about becoming a pilot, and now my positive experience at Bear Stearns encouraged me to think about a different career. I ended up asking my boss whether he thought I could make it in the brokerage business. With his encouraging reply, I decided to turn in my air force bars. It's funny how events had conspired to change my destiny: First, my parents' divorce forced me to graduate late, thus delaying my service obligation, and now, a simple physical exam steered me in an entirely different direction.
During late 1955 and early 1956, I plugged away at my job while studying for my broker's license at night. By June, I passed the required exam. Bear Stearns moved me to the brokerage office at One Wall Street. I was excited by my rapid progress and the move to the heart of the financial world. It felt great receiving the license and having the chance to run what felt like my own business. I worked hard as a young broker. Since I was still given to shyness, Joanie helped me immensely. She'd push me to make cold calls and to touch base with my clients each day. Her words still ring clearly: "Did you call So-and-So today? Be sure to follow up!"
I never had a sophisticated calling program; rather, I took every referral I could get, first concentrating on family friends and then soliciting waiters and ma?tre d's in the restaurants I frequented. Early on, probably a fifth of my clients worked in restaurants. Once in a while, there were some pleasant surprises as when the ma?tre d' of Jimmy's Lagrange Restaurant gave me an account which included $100,000 worth of AT&T stock.
My first year had its ups and downs. I vividly remember losing sleep because I had made some bad stock calls and lost money for my clients. For a while, I was afraid to go out to eat since I knew I'd have to confront my waiter clients. Still, working hard to master the firm's investment research, I soon began to excel. By September 1956, I was doing well enough that Joanie and I could afford to take an apartment of our own and thankfully get out from under the discomfort of living with her parents. Our new apartment in East Rockaway cost $135 a month in rent, or half my income, but the independence was well worth it. Just as we were set to move, Joanie gave birth to our son, Marc. I loved being a new father, though the sense of responsibility now pushed me all the more to excel at work.
I continued to increase my production and generated $25,000 in gross commissions in 1957, which meant I was bringing home $7,500. I was doing well enough, but 1957 was a difficult year for the market. President Eisenhower's heart attack reversed investors' prior surge in confidence, and the Dow Jones Average dropped nearly 13 precent that year as trading volume flattened. I was still nervous at the start of 1958, and one of my uncles encouraged me to consider moving to a small brokerage operation named after its owner, Frank LaGrange. This was only a three-person firm, but what appealed to me was the offer for a guaranteed $7,500 in base pay plus profit sharing. Conservatively, I believed the pay structure would insulate me against the risk of a poor market.
Working for LaGrange was generally unpleasant. My boss had a love affair with railroad and sugar stocks (this was pre-Castro), while I was drawn to start-up and technology-oriented companies. I used to hang out at lunch with analyst-brokers from neighboring Unterberg Towbin and share stock ideas. Tommy Unterberg and I soon became good friends-he'd often sleep on the sofa in my apartment so that we could get an early start the next day going out to research companies in the area. Frank LaGrange didn't approve of my hanging out with technology analyst friends and insisted that I should concentrate instead on more staid companies. Not helping matters any, he hated my smoking and constantly harped that his wife didn't like the smell of tobacco on his shirts. Before I knew it, I felt whipsawed as the market recovered vigorously in 1958. It surged 34 percent for the year and had undermined my original reason for leaving Bear Stearns. Thinking I'd receive a healthy bonus, I felt entirely misled at year end when La- Grange announced there were no profits to share.
Fortunately, I saw a way out. For weeks, the sales manager at Burnham & Company had been calling trying to get me to jump ship. He'd play on everything I didn't like about LaGrange by advertising Burnham's family-like culture, its emphasis on a wide range of stocks, and its paternalistic founder. The sales manager assured me that with my skills and Burnham's support "you'll triple your production, I guarantee it." Usually words like that should make anyone suspicious, but I took the bait and, sure enough, my commissions zoomed to the point where I brought home $25,000 in 1959. Of course, those were years when commissions were regulated and actually maintained at very rich levels. For instance, commissions then approximated 7 percent of clients' assets, or ten times the rate typically earned forty years later. However I earned it, my pay put me in the elite of all retail brokers at the time.
Burnham & Company was a terrific place most of all because of its founder, I. W. "Tubby" Burnham. Tubby was one of the most down-to-earth and nicest men I have ever known. The grandson of the distiller I. W. Harper, Tubby had earned his nickname as a child when he was forced to gain fifty pounds as part of the cure for typhoid fever. He opened the firm's doors in 1935-I was impressed that someone could build a firm that could stand such a test of time. Tubby was the perfect mentor: He was a consummate retail broker and always enjoyed working with young employees with whom he shared his accumulated wisdom. He'd constantly walk around the fifty-person firm and ask employees for their ideas. He demonstrated his humanity by treating his employees as though they were family and imparted to each the sense that they were all equally important. It was a style so lacking elsewhere on Wall Street. Tubby may not have been a rocket scientist, but he taught me the importance of focusing on the basics in running a business, especially the need to respect and value one's employees.
Mirroring my professional growth, our family and lifestyle were also maturing. My success at Burnham gave Joanie and me the means to afford a larger two-bedroom apartment in our building. The expansion came just in time for the birth of our daughter, Jessica. We were proud parents but followed traditional roles with Joanie staying home to take care of Marc and Jessica while I was the breadwinner. Unlike most of our friends, we didn't benefit from a wealthy parental support system, a fact which I resented since I never asked for a lot. Without any extra financial help, it felt like we were in a titanic struggle to make a place for ourselves. In hindsight, I wish I had been able to spend more time with my kids in those years, but I felt that the majority of my time and energy had to go toward building my business. It was a matter of basic survival.
In early 1959, Burnham & Company celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary, an event which had a profound impact on me. With my father's businesses, I had never seen such longevity, and the notion of building something which would be bigger than any one person seemed awesome. By this point, Arthur Carter and I already were thinking of starting our own firm, and that celebration spurred us on. I even figured Tubby might back us if I appealed to him and used his story as an example of what we wanted to accomplish.
We had already spent nearly four years fantasizing about opening our own business. Our ruminations had begun shortly after we first met as across-the-hall neighbors in our East Rockaway apartment. Arthur and his wife, Linda, had moved in a month before us and also had a newborn child. Arthur and I used to talk about the stock market at every chance we could get. We had plenty in common and quickly became good friends. We'd rarely allow much time to go by without cooking dinner for one another, and as time went on, we vacationed together as well.
Arthur was a year and a half older than I and clearly brilliant. The son of an IRS agent father and a mother who was a French teacher, he had grown up in Woodmere and graduated from Brown where he had studied French and music. His father once had him tested to determine what sort of career would most suit him, and the results showed a remarkable breadth of aptitude. He considered a career as a classical pianist before aiming his sights on becoming an investment banker. As I'd see more in later years, his multiple talents imparted an impatient nature and an eagerness to experiment with new things.
Commuting together into Manhattan each morning, Arthur and I compared notes on our companies, the brokerage industry, and stocks we liked. We were not sophisticated, but that didn't stop us from thinking otherwise. We were both young and idealistic, and we soon began to dream about what we might create if we were to start our own business. It was fun thinking out loud together, but our planning was premature, as Arthur soon decided to quit Lehman and enroll at Dartmouth for his MBA. While he was there, I managed his investment account. I'd come up with stocks to buy; and, just as often, Arthur would tell me what he liked, and I'd go off and research the idea and determine whether we'd buy it. It was a great collaboration and all the more fired our ambitions to team up one day.
Upon obtaining his degree, Arthur went to work for an investment bank other than Lehman but realized the job wasn't for him. It was now late 1959, and the stock market was enjoying a terrific year. I was thriving at Burnham and gaining self-confidence. Arthur and I were commuting together once more, and we redoubled our talk about starting our own firm. We quickly settled on our business plan, which would take the best of Allen & Company and its investment banking focus and combine it with retail brokerage services which might cover our overhead. We each felt we weren't good at big-company politics and believed we could make a decent living with our newly conceived business model. I reasoned that if we took the plunge and it didn't work out I could always go back to working for Tubby.
Filled with enthusiasm, we decided to run our idea past Arthur's father-in-law, Peter Schweitzer, who was a successful and wealthy entrepreneur making cigarette paper. Schweitzer did not discourage us, but he made us realize that we lacked enough customers to make a viable venture and recommended we bring in additional partners. Arthur suggested we approach his childhood friend Roger Berlind. Roger had a passion for songwriting. An unsuccessful attempt at writing for a career had brought him to the Wall Street firm Eastman Dillon as a broker instead.
Perhaps Roger had already been thinking of going off on his own as he quickly warmed to the idea of joining us. However, he insisted we also bring along his friend and Eastman colleague Peter Potoma, who was the son-in-law of publishing magnate George Delacorte. We accepted the idea as we figured Peter's family connection might come in handy. As I got to know Roger, I realized he hid his being Jewish well, and Arthur and I assumed he wanted Potoma to be included so that we wouldn't be seen to the outside world as a Jewish firm. After all, in the 1950s, Wall Street firms were clearly classified by their ethnicities. In that regard at least our new firm would surely break the mold.
Coming together, the four of us must have sounded awfully arrogant for our young ages. We all agreed there was little good investment research around and that we could do much better by pooling our collective intelligence. The Dow Jones Industrial Average had surged over 50 percent in 1958-59 all the way to 680. No doubt those robust market conditions made us all feel particularly smart even if we knew the old adage on the Street never to confuse brains with a bull market.
The group assembled, Arthur went back to his father-in-law and asked him to help us buy a seat on the New York Stock Exchange in order to get our business up and running. In addition, each of us agreed to kick in what we could out of our own savings. For Joanie and me, that meant contributing $30,000, which was virtually all we had-we only held back $1,000 in case of an emergency.
Schweitzer initially responded positively to our request for help in buying the seat, and we soon signed a contract that gave us two weeks to come up with the $160,000 purchase price. Suddenly, though, Arthur's father-in-law changed course and declined to give us the financial support he had promised. By early 1960, the market had turned soft and so, too, had Mr. Schweitzer.
It was a terrible quandary as, by now, we had all given notice to our employers, and we felt on the hook legally with our contractual commitment. I got especially cold feet and even offered at one point that we should sell the seat, take a loss, and wait a couple of years before trying again. Yet our luck turned when Peter's wife's family and Roger's mother and mine pitched in and committed to help us pay for the seat. As a Delacorte, Peter's wife came from substantial means and helped him step up his initial contribution. I didn't have wealthy family connections on which to draw, but unbelievably, my mother gave us $30,000, which was fully 60 percent of all she owned following her divorce. It was an act of complete selflessness. In contrast to Peter Schweitzer, who was probably worth $50 million and gave us nothing, my mother, with her $50,000 net worth, went to the mat for her son.
Altogether, we raised $250,000, which was enough to pay for the seat on the exchange and still have enough left over to defray the cost of our office space and our other operating costs. Each of the four partners actually had contributed different amounts, but we decided we'd still each have an equal ownership share as we knew we were all pulling together. We decided to pay ourselves $12,500 apiece in our first year, which helped us have something left over after our other costs to reinvest in the business.
That payout amounted to a 50 percent cut from what I had been earning at Burnham, but the drop didn't bother me as I felt proud to be in business on my own. Joanie was also incredibly supportive and willing to pinch pennies and sacrifice. While many of our friends were then buying their first homes in fancy North Shore neighborhoods on Long Island, we plowed our savings into the business and moved into a garden apartment rental in Baldwin, a middle-class neighborhood on the South Shore.
As we got closer to setting up shop, the market downturn of early 1960 intensified. Everyone we knew began to question whether we really wanted to take on such a risk. People like Arthur's father-in-law asked, "Who are you guys to think you can do this successfully?" In fact, we could only point to two similarly oriented firms which had successfully started up in the 1950s, Donaldson Lufkin Jenrette and Faulkner Dawkins.
Nonetheless, none of us would countenance backing out now. After all, we knew what our costs would be and the commissions we'd need to be profitable. Given our past production, we felt it wasn't as big a risk as everyone seemed to think. We were also reassured by Tubby Burnham's willingness to have Burnham & Company settle our trades, which we all took as a vote of confidence. In the end, we figured we had plenty of room to cover our costs even factoring in the risk of a sharp falloff in commissions.
As I look back on that period now, I marvel at our naïveté and our inherent optimism. We were young and infused with energy and had gained our first business experience during the mostly dynamic 1950s. There surely were economic fluctuations in those years, but for the most part it was a time of rising prosperity, healthy economic growth, and empowerment for American investors. The end of the Korean War initially unleashed the country's potential, and the economy grew steadily through most of the decade.
By the 1957 launch of Sputnik, the Space Age burst onto the scene and spawned a slew of new companies built on technological innovation. Between rising personal incomes and the explosion in innovation, the fundamentals underpinning the stock market were very positive indeed. Between 1955 and the end of 1959, the Dow Index surged 40 percent to nearly 700 while trading volumes jumped 25 percent to three million shares a day, a whopping number at the time even if it's laughable by today's billion-share standard. Equally important, individuals were coming to realize how they might diversify their savings by investing in stocks and bonds. As we opened our doors, there were about fifteen million individuals in the United States actively buying stocks- that number was less than 10 percent of the country's population but was up sharply from only about five million at the start of the 1950s.
We may have started Carter, Berlind, Potoma & Weill with uncomfortably small quarters and little more than our collective optimism, yet we instinctively felt that we were in a business full of promise. From the start, we worked incredibly hard to build our new company, and looking back, it was a tremendously exciting time in my life. I loved going out and visiting companies I thought might represent good investments and then pitching the ideas to our clients.
Each day, we'd listen to the sound of the ticker tape for a sign of the markets' direction-a loud tape meant stronger trading volumes and typically higher prices while a quiet tape meant we had to redouble our client-calling efforts to generate business. And all of us tried as hard as we could to build relationships with companies, which we hoped might lead to an eventual payday from an investment banking transaction. We rarely thought too much about the big picture, but in our hearts we felt as though the capital markets were wide open and poised for tremendous growth.
In retrospect, I didn't know the half of it!
Excerpted from The Real Deal , by Sandy Weill and Judah S. Kraushaar . Copyright (c) 2006 by Sanford I. Weill. Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.Back to top