Call any Wall Street trading desk, and as likely as not an ex-soldier will pick up the phone. Ask him, and he'll tell you that the skills learned in the military apply just as well to trading stocks as they do to trading fire.
With Lower Manhattan resembling a battlefield these days, such skills have never been in more demand -- nor are they in short supply. Wall Street human resources departments have long recognized the value of a military background, and many firms are packed with old soldiers. After all, it's hard to imagine better leadership training than commanding an infantry in a battle. Next to that, run-of-the-mill office crises seem downright quaint.
"My military experience taught me to be decisive," said Art Gorman, a manager of
trading at Merrill Lynch and an officer in the Marines from 1976 through 1997. "It's why Merrill hired me."
Never has decisiveness been so important to the financial district as on the morning of Sept. 11. That day, Gorman, who served in both the Gulf War and Somalia, ordered half of his floor to leave the World Financial Center as soon as the first plane crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center. When a second plane smacked into the south tower, he led the rest of the troops down nine flights of stairs.
"People were looking for somebody to take charge," said Gorman. "As a trader, you've got to lead from every seat of the room." By one estimate, 10,000 of Merrill's 60,000 employees worldwide have had some kind of military experience, which has readied them for a job in the financial services industry.
"The military builds your self-confidence," said Rod Smith, co-head of listed block trading at U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray. "It makes you a more responsible and more dedicated person." Smith served in the U.S. Army from 1982 through 1987, conducting military intelligence in Korea. After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, he yearned for his army days. But he likes being a trader because it offers the same "adrenaline, pressure and intense environment" that the military does.
Other similarities are noted by ex-military guys: "In the Marine Corps, you're either right or you're dead wrong," said Diron Scott, a Nasdaq trader at WR Hambrecht. "The same thing holds true for trading: There's no partially being right; you've got to be exact and you've got to be consistent."
Brooks Tucker, an associate in the private client division of Deutsche Banc, spent five years on active duty in the Marines from 1988 through 1992, serving in the Gulf War. At one point during that conflict Tucker went without showering for 68 days.
"These were the harshest conditions I've ever encountered," said Tucker. "There was a lot of digging, some hot weather and very cold nights."
Those faraway experiences have prepared Tucker for his current position, where management expects him to do his job without being spoon-fed. "I learned how to develop a game plan and to execute it without a lot of supervision," said Tucker.