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The Seedy Side of Wall Street
One man's experience from bottom to top...and then bottom again
Have you ever wondered how the worst depression seen in modern history was caused? Newspapers report that this new great depression has been Wall Street's fault; but what can bankers on Wall Street do to destroy wealth and literally bankrupt entire countries? This is a book that shows how insiders played fast and loose with your money for decades, not to mention shows the seedy underbelly of these firms.
Image Credit: eco-coach.com
While there is a time and a place for comprehensive historical books of the entire system of Wall Street, this book focuses instead on the life of just one insider. An insider who started with a troubled past but was able to work himself into some of the highest paying and most 'respected' positions in Wall Street firms. Along the way he briefly explains some of the early habits that have caused some of the current macro challenges we have seen in our economies as well as the epiphanies he has experienced in his own life.
Life for Silvio started off in a rough way. He had an abusive father and perhaps not the greatest childhood. With his 4 brothers and sisters he had to work to put himself through college. With the help of key mentors in his life he was able to maintain his focus and graduate with an engineering degree, even when he was tempted to leave engineering. His last year of college, with virtually no money to his name, his girlfriend became pregnant and thus leaded to a quick marriage. This began his quest to find jobs that would support his wife and his son in a manner better than his own childhood. He worked a series of menial labor jobs including driving trucks of acid to the oil fields in Texas, before getting advice to move into finance as that was where the future of real money was located. Going to graduate business school and then walking into Wall Street was the new plan.
This then began a 27-year journey from one aspect of the trading floor to the other. Mostly focusing on currency exchanges he began in New York, moved his way to Japan and then back stateside. In essence his job was to wager investor's funds on which direction the exchange rate was going with different currencies. For instance if he felt that the Yen would lose value compared to the dollar he would buy futures on the Dollar at a lower rate to sell later when it went higher (hopefully). As the author pointed out, you are trying to predict the future. Deals moved quickly and energetically virtually all hours of the day somewhere around the world. Tempers flare on the trading floors and on the phone with sellers. Mistakes are made and traders tried to bully other traders when they are caught off guard and mis-read a trend. This was the sophisticated and 'civilized' system of financial trading in the 80s and 90s.
Along the way he saw and experienced the seedy underbelly of Wall Street that is usually not shown publicly. Anywhere there is the potential for lots of money, shady deals and avoiding regulators is bound to follow. Due to the stress and the need to blow off steam hard drugs and chasing women were practically a requirement of the job. While perhaps not pervasive in other firms, the author had his own first hand experiences with both hard and soft drugs as well as a few love affairs.
He also exposed the extreme arrogance and greed of many working in Wall Street especially those in leadership positions. In fact, according to the author, virtually everyone in Wall Street is either stealing from someone else or engaging in other quasi-legal financial maneuverings. Temptation was always present to take the shortcuts to earn your own quick cash. This didn't help when he was trying to overcome his own demons including an extreme temper where he would scream routinely on the trading floor. Thankfully, with the help of some great advice from mentors he was able to curb his anger allowing him to work his way up to one of the highest positions on a trading floor. Unfortunately, due to some bad moves he ended up in an extremely disreputable firm where frankly there was no going back. He was now tainted by the firm that was held in such poor regard by its peers. Forced to spend the next few years going from one lower position to another, he finally retired from finance when he realized his heart was no longer in the job anymore.
My Overall Review
The toughest work of any author is to transport a reader into a foreign world and make them feel at home. To teach a language which will then enable them to understand a story of either education or entertainment. While this story certainly educated to what life is like in many Wall Street firms I will confess that the intricacies and explanations of the financials were beyond even this reader. I believe most readers will find entire pages of explanations to be as confusing as advanced particle physics textbooks.
With that said, this book from a pure entertainment value did share one man's experiences in a rapid pace format. Moving beyond the sections that attempted to explain the intricacies of the exchange market, this was a story of a man chasing a dream and finding the pitfalls in that journey. Perhaps quite biased (although who among us can claim to be completely unbiased when looking back upon their own life) he paints a very vivid picture easily imagined.
As a final note, readers should also be advised that the author can be extremely crass and vulgar throughout the story. Perhaps that is the world that was Wall Street in the 80s and 90s but readers should be prepared.
What we can take away from this story
While the story of Wall Street can be both frightening and perhaps horrifying there was one realization that the author had at the end of his 27-year career that I think bears repeating here. At the end of his career with all the drugs, the women and the money it didn’t make him any happier. In fact with all the stress that he experienced every day in some ways made him less happy than others who made vastly less than him. Only at the end of his career, long after his wife left him did he find personal contentment in a new girlfriend, and some canine companionship. Perhaps we all need to take this as a lesson that there is much more to life than money. That our quality of life, although requiring funds, also requires relationships, trusts, and love. Without that you might find yourself at the end of your career alone and perhaps rich, but still alone. So take some time to be with your family and friends and put work behind.
Interview with author Silvio Santini
Q: What was your favorite part of writing this book?
My favorite part of writing the book was remembering the incredible passion and excitement I felt for the FX market during the most successful periods of my trading career. I loved getting up early for work and focusing on the markets 24/7. Those days are gone for me and they are not coming back. In writing this book and moving on with my life I have determined not to recriminate about past mistakes.
Q: Since writing this book, and thus reflecting on your life, do you have any regrets?
I must say I do not have regrets. I made good decisions and bad ones but I always tried my best. The most important lesson I learned in graduate business school was the micro-economic concept of sunk cost. It certainly helped me tremendously in my career.
Q: What are your goals moving forward? More books or other challenges?
I am now working on a new novel. I love dogs and have four of them and I have become very involved in dog rescue. It can be very heart breaking but also very fullfilling.