I learned recently a life-long friend was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. My friend and former Wisconsin neighbor is older than me. In fact, at one time he was my babysitter. As I learned yesterday the CME would shut down most of its futures trading pits, his story came rushing back to me.
He was one of the young men from Southern Wisconsin who found a way to the Chicago futures markets in the early 1980s. He knew many traders from around the lake, just like the CME Group’s Terry Duffy and CQG’s Pat Kenny did.
His sister, who is married to an ABN AMRO executive, was my swimming teacher as kid. This family was a big part of the fabric of our neighborhood and subdivision on the lake in Wisconsin.
As a youth, my friend was an excellent swimmer and became a member of the Lake Geneva Water Safety Patrol. He put the cool in cool. An excellent athlete, bright, exceptionally good looking and outgoing, friendly and confident, you knew he was going to be successful.
My friend was a regular at Chuck’s bar on a Saturday night, the bar where Duffy and Kenny were then the bartenders. We all loved to go to Chuck’s, cheap beer, good times and beautiful girls.
My friend ended up marrying one of the prettiest girls at Chuck’s and also a fellow neighbor.
He went down to the CME in the beginning of the 1980s when the S&P 500 was just beginning. He took a job as a runner to learn the ropes. He cashed in all his assets, including his motorcycle and leased or bought, I can’t remember, a CME membership to trade the Spoos.
I expected great things from him in the trading pit. He had it all. He was a natural magnetic personality with a booming voice. He had all the physical tools and the mental toughness to be successful. However, he struggled.
It seems he was never able to really break into the club that was the S&P 500 pit. Of course, he was a small trader in a big pit. But I thought if anyone could be successful in the trading pit, it would him. I remember him telling me about having winning trades, but not being able to get out as no one would trade with him because he still had the newbie sticker on his membership badge. He would run over to the trading desk of this clearing firm and ask them to run an order into a broker so he could get out of a trade. It is always good to have a Plan B for your exits.
I knew a lot of traders even back then, guys who spent years in the trading pit. He had all the gifts you would look for in a trader, though he was not an ex-basketball player, he was a swimmer.
His struggles as a trader impacted my own path. Where I started as a journalist, seeking to learn as much about the markets as I could by asking people about them, he took the traditional route. When I finally did get a chance to trade on the floor, I did not like it as much as I hoped I would.
I was not in the dynamic S&P pit of the 1980s, I was in the sleepy Midamerica of the late 1980s. I did not like the loneliness of the trading pit, despite being surrounded by competing dozens of other souls.
I think subconsciously I asked myself how could I be successful as an open outcry trader if my friend could not, with all his talents and gifts. Yes, I am tall, but he had so many other gifts.
My friend went on to a successful career in management consulting, helping firms recognize and incentivize their employees. He has 3 beautiful daughters, who are as stunning as his beautiful wife Julie. He has countless friends, who I am sure as devastated as I am to learn his diagnosis.
I went on to a career as a futures broker, off the floor trader, journalist and Commodity Trading Advisor.
I don’t name my friend because he has not told all his customers of his diagnosis, but I remember him every time I think about my experience trading on the floor and the decisions I made in my career. I thank him for his friendship and all he gave and shared with me. I shall always remember him, especially when I think of the exchange trading floor.