Editor's note: The following is the text of a speech delivered at Monmouth University on March 28, 2000.
Four words, scrawled on a Post-It stuck to my quote screen, define what I am looking for in people who work with me: "Tenacity, Rigor, Honesty and Loyalty." I want to go over them and their implications because, as you go out into the world of business, I want you to know what traits make a successful, valuable person in business today.
First, a word about who I am and what I know. I am a part of the American dream as much as anyone was who came out of high school in the '70s. I got the scholarship to
, became the editor of the school paper and then graduated with honors, but no job. Not a one.
The country was in the throes of second-rate-dom and jobs were scarce, even for people with good credentials. I wanted to be a reporter, because that's what I loved doing at Harvard.
I fulfilled that fantasy, but -- because at the time you couldn't make a living being a reporter unless you were from a rich family -- after a couple of years (including an ignominious period where I lived in my car), I went back to
Harvard Law School
. I couldn't stand it, because shortly before going to law school I had discovered the stock market and nothing would ever be the same for me. I knew I could beat it. I have spent the last 20 years proving exactly that.
I went to
right after law school to sell stocks because, well, how could I not? I loved them and I believed in them and I saw this bull market coming. I know that sounds like bragging, but can someone who put out a newsletter from his law school dorm entitled "Mr. Bullish" live that down? Can someone who recommended in 1982 on his answering machine that people get long for the coming bull market
be proud of that call?
Thirteen years ago I left Goldman Sachs to run money. I did it not because I didn't love Goldman -- it remains the only firm I would ever work for besides my own -- but because my strength was stock-picking and the job of a broker is asset-gathering not stock-picking. I didn't stay on the job.
My money-management company,
, now manages $400 million. But four years ago I got a chance to do what I loved best when I was in college: Be a journalist again. I got that chance because the Web gave someone with some means -- which I now had from my hedge fund -- an ability to own my own newspaper. Government regulations bent on not allowing a hedge fund manager to run a journal on stocks forced me to share the company with others, but I was able to get
off the ground and to write for it every day of the week.
With these two successes in mind, let me talk about what I look for in people. If I can tell you now what I look for, you can start showing it now.
Believe me, it is what every successful executive in this country is searching for, but they won't articulate it, frankly, because it is just too darn hokey to talk about in this cynical and overly skeptical world of ours. Maybe I am just a throwback, but I am not afraid to talk about it because I know what got me here.
The first trait I like to see in someone is tenacity. The most common experience you will have in the next year is rejection. It is part of the game. It is par for the course. It is what life is about. You have to know that and to not flinch or allow temporary adversity to stop you. It means nothing. No does not mean yes. It just means maybe.
What does tenacity really mean? Let's turn this room into a book club. Tonight, when you get home, go to
This is the memoir of a sailor with the great Ernest Shackleton who triumphed over the most unbelievable set of circumstances in a battle to get his crew from one end of Antarctica to the other in 1915. Whenever I find the rejection around me overwhelming -- and it still happens every time -- I reread this work and I remind myself that my trials are nothing, just nothing. You must be tenacious to the point of absurdity to win in business. Nobody wants you to win as much as you, so you better be tenacious in pursuit of what you want.
Rigor is the hidden gem of my beliefs. I think rigor is a lost notion. It means that you have thought something through to its airtight conclusion. I look for rigor in presentations, I look for rigor in meetings and interviews. Rigor is my shorthand for the opposite of laziness; I want you to explain things to me using ironclad logic and all of the facts. I can't tell you how often I see sloppy, lazy thinking, how often I am unimpressed with what people have to say to me.
If you get your five minutes with me to explain an idea and I don't think you are rigorous, I send you to get me a Diet Coke.
I have grown crotchety and -- these days -- just dismissive. If you get your five minutes with me to explain an idea and I don't think you are rigorous I send you to get me a Diet Coke.
Honesty. OK here is one I will speak harshly and directly to you about. In the next years of your life you are going to screw something up. We all do. Here is what you must do. Admit it and move on. Do not lie. Do not be tempted to lie. Do not hide anything. I know this tenet seems obvious, but believe me, it isn't.
There will be people who will want you not to tell the truth at work. There will be people who you will see who will get ahead from lying. These people are wrong and they will be discovered. A liar is always caught in the business world. When liars are exposed they are finished.
I would prefer an honest bumbler to a dishonest but smart man. Trust is everything, just everything. A liar can destroy you and your team. I hate them. And I have seen and worked with and hired dozens of them. I still hound the ones who lied to me many years after the crime was revealed.
Finally, I want loyalty. Loyalty to me means loyalty to the team. When I hire people at Cramer Berkowitz, I want to know if they played team sports. I want that because people who play team sports are inherently loyal to the team. If they didn't, I have to wait until something goes wrong to see if there is loyalty.
Why is loyalty so important? Because the world is competitive and at all times competitors are trying to take your best people. Loyalty is difficult to inspire in an era where the highest bidder seems to surface daily. But without it, you don't have a team and without a team you can accomplish nothing.
I ought to know. I have tried so often to accomplish things through sheer energy and dint of will, through rigor and tenacity -- and I have failed, because I didn't have a team to execute it, I hadn't built one or the team itself wasn't loyal enough to me or to the company.
Any one of these traits can help you, but you need all four to succeed. This coalition of traits will make you unstoppable in the world you are going into. Without it you will go nowhere. With it you will soar beyond your wildest dreams. So get out there and go for it. But do it right. And I look forward to hearing about your accomplishments.
James J. Cramer is manager of a hedge fund and co-founder of TheStreet.com. At time of publication, his fund was long Goldman Sachs. His fund often buys and sells securities that are the subject of his columns, both before and after the columns are published, and the positions that his fund takes may change at any time. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. Cramer's writings provide insights into the dynamics of money management and are not a solicitation for transactions. While he cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, he invites you to comment on his column at
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