From Humble Beginnings to Trading Success: The Journey of Leonard Kok

John Lothian

John Lothian

Executive Chairman and CEO

Open Outcry Traders History Project Interview with Veteran Singapore Trader Conducted by Robert Lothian During FIA Asia Week

Leonard Kok came from a humble background, with working parents, and thought he might be a policeman when he grew up. However, when he went into the Army for his national service, he read that the highest paid people were not doctors or lawyers, but traders.

Kok decided he wanted to become a trader. He was captivated by the idea and after 2 ½ years of national service, where he was a lieutenant, he began looking for a job as a trader. However, he discovered he lacked a key requirement: experience.

After learning that many traders start as brokers or even runners on the trading floor, Kok decided to become a broker. One month after his service was done, he joined a brokerage firm.

Kok said his best days as a pit trader were during the summer of 1994. He was a reasonably large trader by then, he said. He was seeing gains of multiple millions of Singapore dollars on some days that summer, though he had some losing days of multiple millions too.

He said his worst day was not the day he lost the most money, but rather the day he had the most fear. Kok had a short position in Nikkei put options and the Barings Bank crisis began on a Friday when Barings executive Nick Leeson disappeared. Kok and his wife feared they might lose all they had, but when the market opened on Monday, it was not down as much as he had feared.

His trading style changed over time as he moved from open outcry trading to electronic trading, Kok said. The first half of his career he was a directional trader, holding positions for weeks or months. When the markets moved electronically, he changed his style, as he was not as connected to the markets.

The information advantage in open outcry trading disappeared with electronic trading, so Kok changed his trading style to more arbitrage trading. He would still trade directionally when he saw a big move coming, once or twice a year.

The noise of the market was an important input to Kok’s trading, he said.

He was among the first of the floor traders to make the transition to electronic trading at the SIMEX. He said he was influenced by the success of Eurex. He would start his day pit trading and then move to trading electronically at Eurex later in the day.

His most memorable day was shorting a market during Tokyo hours as the market was rallying. He and others in the pit were holding short Nikkei futures positions and they were counting their losses as the market was ticking up. But then a trader came into the pit and someone bid lower and the trader sold. Another trader bid lower and this trader sold. Then the news broke that Iraq had invaded Kuwait and the market broke sharply. Kok said this was where these traders made their first pot of gold because the market dropped drastically.

Kok said the most common illegal practice he saw was traders not honoring their trades. He would take precautions as a result. He said sometimes he was careful to double confirm trades and make sure the pit surveillance cameras saw the confirmation of the trades, in order to avoid a trader not honoring a trade.

Kok is passionate about trading and says it is his whole being. However, he says it is now like a hobby, like golf, and he likes the low stress of being able to pick and choose when to trade.

The advice he would give someone new coming into the markets is to find a good firm, get paid and learn from them. The opportunity cost is higher today than when he came into the markets, he said.

(Interview by Robert Lothian, Write-up by John Lothian, Video-editing by Patrick Lothian, Edited by Sarah Rudolph)

We visit more than 100 financial news websites daily (Would YOU do that?)

The Spread

More Trader History Videos

Sam Gaer’s Open Outcry History Was a Path To Electronic Trading

Sam Gaer’s Open Outcry History Was a Path To Electronic Trading

Sam Gaer’s foray into the futures industry began at the age of 15 when he sought a summer job and was recruited as a runner on the COMEX. Initially hesitant to wake up at 7 a.m. and commute from his suburban New Jersey home to New York, he swiftly relented upon learning of the $5 cash hourly wage.

His first day saw him working in the COMEX gold pit, running orders to brokers. Despite not really knowing what he was doing, by the end of the summer he had figured out how to chart prices. He also knew about taking orders from phone clerks, running them where they needed to go, what types of orders there were and where the more important orders went. He said, “I just kind of took to it.”

Open Outcry Traders History Project Podcast: From Trading Floors to Life’s Crossroads,  Tom Gould’s Journey Through Trading and Giving Back

Open Outcry Traders History Project Podcast: From Trading Floors to Life’s Crossroads, Tom Gould’s Journey Through Trading and Giving Back

In this podcast version of the Open Outcry Traders History Project video interview, Tom Gould reflects on his trading career and the life-changing experience of a heart attack that led him to give back to the community. Gould’s journey began unexpectedly when he took a summer job at the Chicago Board Options Exchange and then after a second summer received a call from his boss with an offer to forego law school and join the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE). His time on the trading floor had been eye-opening, filled with excitement and learning opportunities, so he took the job.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This Story