Chapter 1: rogue trader

9 03 2008

On my list of things everyone should try at least once: Become a millionaire. You never really appreciate the value of things that aren’t money until you’ve done so. Let me warn you however that being a millionaire isn’t as easy as it looks. If you haven’t been schooled in the physics of money, then you wont understand that all that cash comes with a giddy sense of power that you must keep in check. Haven’t you ever wondered why lottery winners don’t become enduring icons in our society the likes of branson, rockefeller, mittal, and madonna ? It is a well known fact that lottery winners often lose their fortunes within months or even weeks of gaining them. You may say, well that wouldn’t be me. I would be smart. I would put all my money in no fee mutual funds and bonds. Or I would keep my money in a safety deposit box and only spend what I earn. I would say to you, then, why have you bothered to become a millionaire? I learned the hard way, after making and losing my first and only million that the key to having money is not in how you keep it, but in how you spend it.

It was the late 90’s and Bill Clinton was presiding over a booming US economy and celebrating his bountiful presidency with torrid afternoon trysts in the oval office. Investors were just beginning to realize that this thing called the world wide web had the potential to make them very very rich. By 1999 all you had to do was add dot-com to your business name to get an investment infusion of millions. managed to sell billions of dollars worth of junk bonds to the public even though the company said it wouldn’t be profitable for the foreseeable future. The staggering amounts of money were too much of a temptation even for wise business strategists. Business leaders began leaning towards short-term gains in order to survive in what appeared to be a rapidly expanding new economy. Everyone was culpable. It was groupthink on a massive global scale. A few wise voices tried to caution the public that this trend could not last, but they were dismissed and told by the headlines that we had created a new type of economy where the old rules didn’t apply.

I, of course, did not understand all this back then. In fact, I didn’t even consider or analyze a fraction of it. I was someone who had been practically plucked off the streets and placed into a technological role in which I’d had no previous experience or education. To be honest, no one, then had any experience with this stuff. It was all so new that experience was not as highly prized as intellect. If you had the ability to learn new things and adapt quickly in a chaotic environment, that was good enough. It was in this environment that my whole life took a detour from which I would never return. It was an unusually sunny day on a downtown street in a city we’ll just call Pacifica for now. I walked into the lobby of a rather shabby-looking building across the street from junkie-row and next door to a condemned hotel. This was the headquarters of a little online retail company that would eventually become one of the most famous brands in the dot-com industry and one of the few companies that would survive the bust and I was here for an interview on that bright september morning in the fall of 1997.