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Editor's note: This is the ninth installment in TheStreet.com's Home Front series, a collection of twice-weekly features examining how American business, society and investing have changed in the post-Sept. 11 landscape.
On a sunny but chilly spring day, about 15 stockbrokers in PaineWebber's Stamford, Conn., office file into a windowless conference room, grabbing a slice of pizza and a Coke before sitting down at a long narrow table. It's April 10, 2001, and the market is 23.5% off its high a year earlier. The brokers are sullen. They look tired and battle-scarred.
In walks Kevin Elko, a sports psychologist from Pittsburgh, who's about to publish his first book, Nerves of Steel. He got the title from working for a long time for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Elko's job is to convince people -- whether they are football players or stockbrokers -- not to let external events control them, but to toughen up and stay focused on their objectives.
"Events don't cause what you feel. What you think does," Elko proclaims in his slight Southern accent.
Suddenly, the brokers put down their pizza slices and pay attention.
Elko is in his early 40s and stands about 5 feet 9 inches, but he has the presence of a taller man, made even more impressive by his fit physique and the bronze tan he acquired while recently working with the Miami Dolphins. He has dark hair and boyish good looks.
"Circumstances don't make the man, they reveal the man," he shouts. "The market's doing well, you're doing well. But when the market is bad, so you're bad. That's what you're thinking. Come on! You're better than that!"
From the looks of recognition and guilt on the brokers' faces, you can tell that Elko has hit a nerve. Confidently, he goes on: "You're looking at that
screen for relief? It's not gonna happen." The market will be back, he says. "Act like you've been in the end zone before. Talk to your clients. Let them know you've been through this before."
Elko gives the brokers about 30 minutes of motivational cheer filled with sports anecdotes from his days with Olympic athletes and football teams like the Steelers, Cowboys and Dolphins. The brokers, laughing and smiling, head back to their desks in what appear to be much better moods.
Little did Elko know that six months later, brokers would need his encouraging words more than ever. The tragedy of Sept. 11 and the stock market's continued slump -- the
is down another 1.5% since April 10, with a lot of volatility in between -- have taken a toll on the nerves of those working in the financial community. "I've never been busier," Elko told me the other day. "They all grab me -- Salomon Smith Barney, PaineWebber, Merrill."
Elko has a retainer with Merrill to teach leadership skills to its senior managers. He also has an exclusive contract with Pioneer Investment Management, which snatched him up about a year ago to provide motivational speeches that fund salespeople, or wholesalers, could offer to their clients -- mainly stockbrokers at firms such as PaineWebber and independent financial advisers all over the country. Elko has become so popular that these brokers now demand that their Pioneer wholesalers bring him along.
So far this year, Elko has been out to brokers' offices with Pioneer's wholesalers 160 days, giving three presentations a day. Since Sept. 11, that pace has picked up. Immediately after the tragedy, Elko made 21 presentations in three days, including one in a PaineWebber office that overlooks ground zero.
Indeed, just after the attacks, Elko spent much of his time in Washington, D.C., near the Pentagon, and at Manhattan's Essex House Hotel, where he met with brokers who worked at Merrill's World Financial Center office, which is adjacent to where the twin towers once stood.
He was amazed by how well people were handling the trauma. "New York was better than any other place in the country," he says. The people there, he says, "came together as a community. There was this feeling of camaraderie and patriotism that was healing in some way. They thought this was a direct attack on our industry and refused to be anything but strong. The place I wanted to be the most was there. I felt tremendous energy."
Even so, many people in the industry are a long way from being fine. In fact, Elko says that a good number are worse now than they were just after the tragedy. "Many were keeping a stiff upper lip at first," Elko says. Some would grow uncomfortable when discussing the terrorist attacks and walk out of the room. "Everyone wants to hurry up and run again," he adds.
But now emotions are surfacing, preventing some people from focusing at work. "Some people come up to me and hug me and cry and say, "'I'm glad you came,'" says Elko.
Those having the hardest time dwell on the possibility of another attack, he says, adding that events such as the Nov. 12 crash of an American Airlines plane in New York don't help. "That's when we say, 'One day at a time,'" Elko says.
But the emotions are a good sign, he adds. "Before you heal, you have to allow yourself to be wounded. People are starting to admit that they're wounded." Now, he says, "they can heal."
Odette Galli writes daily for TheStreet.com. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, she doesn't own or short individual stocks, although she owns stock in TheStreet.com. She also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. She invites you to send your feedback to