The Power of Goodwill, Hard Work, Luck and Helping Other People

The power of goodwill hard work and luck helping other people.
John Lothian

John Lothian

Executive Chairman and CEO

My posting of the recent Hall of Fame induction news and my two commentaries to LinkedIn and Facebook produced an onslaught of congratulatory comments. It also produced many other comments lauding me for my contributions to the industry, hard work and more. It was a tremendous display of the goodwill that I have created over the years through my work.

When I started what eventually would be named the John Lothian Newsletter, it was a viral marketing experiment aimed at growing my brokerage business, expanding my personal network and helping sell managed futures products. I had seen startling examples in the early days of the internet of viral marketing and I wanted to try my hand at it. I had also read about something called a weblog, a personal diary on the web that a few years later would just be called a “blog.” So I created a weblog of the dynamic changes in the industry happening as open outcry markets transformed to electronic markets and new products like single stock futures emerged, and I shared it daily by email in a newsletter format I created. Little did I know I was engaging in activities akin to modern-day blogging, such as aggregating news, sharing, and commenting on it, long before the term “blogging” even existed.

The viral marketing part of the experiment worked as the readership lists of the newsletter grew exponentially. I used to blast out the newsletter by blind copy emails. I would have to break the newsletter list into multiple emails as you could only include so many BCC addresses on a single email. Then the Price Group’s email supplier provided me with a mailserve to blast out the newsletter.

When Ryan Lothian joined John J. Lothian & Company, Inc., he recommended the email provider Constant Contact to manage the thousands of email addresses we were sending out every day.

Rather than labeling our approach as viral marketing, I preferred to characterize it as “goodwill marketing.” When I sent out an email, recipients who found it valuable would generate goodwill towards us. It was akin to offering a gift: they received it, appreciated it, and sometimes passed it along to others who could benefit from the information. This ripple effect of goodwill extended back to us, creating a positive cycle of mutual appreciation and benefit.

As our daily newsletter gained traction among thousands of readers in the derivatives, capital, and environmental markets, we cultivated significant goodwill. I often remarked that if we could quantify this goodwill on our balance sheet, it would surpass all other assets in value. Today, that goodwill remains our most prized asset.

That raised the question of how to utilize all that goodwill. One of the reasons I create goodwill is that I like to help people. When you help someone, it generally creates goodwill for you. There are exceptions.

I offered to help Jim Kharouf, who wanted to start a carbon market newsletter that would help inform people about this developing environmental market. Richard Sandor and Kharouf had shared a beer in Burgenstock and Doc Sandor reportedly said, “Wouldn’t it be great if there were a newsletter in the carbon markets like John Lothian’s in the derivatives markets?”

Kharouf went about the business of creating the newsletter, but never got it off the drawing board. JLN had an environmental markets trading section that had replaced the single stock futures section, and it was bulging at the seams with non-price oriented stories. One day I had 15 environmental news stories in JLN and so I called up Kharouf and asked him about his newsletter. I had pledged to help him promote his newsletter once he launched it. He told me the newsletter was still on the drawing board.

I told Kharouf right then and there that if he did not do something, then I was going to. But instead if he wanted, we could collaborate and take my format, expand the content and send it out as Environmental Markets Newsletter, a name we agreed on. We would add my newsletter to the bottom of the new newsletter so that people in the environmental space could learn about the derivatives space.

We agreed to meet at the OIC conference in Miami and work out an agreement. Over a bucket of beers on Miami Beach we made an agreement and the Environmental Markets Newsletter was born.

This was an example of using goodwill to create an opportunity for Kharouf and a needed product for the markets. Environmental Markets was launched in 2006.

In 2007, Jon Matte asked me for a job. I had met Jon in the mid-1990s on a futures trading focused newsgroup on the internet and we became friends and allies. At the time, Jon was a budding broker clearing Alaron and a Commodity Trading Adviser. I facilitated a deal with Price Asset Management to raise funds for his CTA, securing $3 million for his bond trading program. At its peak performance, his program attained the top ranking among approximately 700 CTAs tracked by Price Asset Management. Seeking to promote Jon’s 30-Year Bond program’s performance, I reached out to Bernie Dan, who had just joined the CBOT, to seek promotion of Jon’s program. Subsequently, Defender Capital Management was prominently featured on the CBOT website’s front page. How times have changed?

Jon subsequently moved his brokerage and CTA businesses to me at The Price Group. He gave me his brokerage business so he could focus on his growing CTA business. Then after he went through a divorce and some trading-related difficulties, he sold his CTA business to me.

In 2003, I set up John J. Lothian & Company, Inc. to be able to be a CTA and also be able to charge for the newsletter. Patrick Young had been gracious enough to invite me to Burgenstock the year before and then again in 2004. Even though the newsletter had helped my brokerage business grow nicely, I needed revenue outside of it to pay for activities that were not necessarily going to bring me more brokerage business. So I started the shareware approach for the newsletter, going from free to free, but asking for payment if you found it valuable.

Fast forward to 2007. Jon had been doing other things, including selling boats, but he wanted to get back to the markets. He asked me for a job. I was trading his CTA program, but I was still in the stage of establishing a track record. Even though I had grown the number of accounts, and was doing well trading his system, I was not producing enough revenues to support an employee.

I looked elsewhere for an opportunity to support Jon. A former trader and one-time lads magazine publisher by the name of Jimmy Wales was offering the software from his most recent highly successful enterprise to anyone for free. I said sold. Wales said his software was so important to mankind and civilization for the creation of knowledge-bases, collaboration and sharing, he was going to give it away. SOLD, I said!

His software is MediaWiki, the code that makes Wikipedia run. It is all part of the open source universe, including the Apache server, the MySQL database and PHP.

I found a name I liked, MarketsWiki, and told Jon about the idea. He liked it. I went to the FIA Boca conference in March of 2007 and did not have a piece of paper or logo, just a story. I told them about building my newsletter, then the environmental markets newsletter and now MarketsWiki. The idea was well received and people told me they would support the idea.

In 2007, there was a line on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, not to get a copy of the Chicago Tribune, but to buy a thing called the iPhone. The world was changing and how people were getting their information was changing. Fewer people were reading newspapers, mainstream media was bankrupt financially and strategically. A new media platform was needed for advertisers in the industry.

We were also losing intellectual capital from the trading floors as the pits were closing as electronic trading was dominating. Human IC was scattering to the four winds, which would make it harder to access. I had noted too that Wikipedia always showed up as a top 3 entry in Google when I looked for something.

After Boca, it took me a while to get going on the project, but by August 1, Jon was on board and beginning work for me on the project. At the time, I had $23,000 in the bank account of John J. Lothian & Company, Inc. I was paying him $1000 a week, so I told him I had enough to pay him through the end of the year if we did not generate a nickel.

However, the marketing efforts at Boca started paying off and firms started signing up right and left to sponsor this wiki, whose name we had not yet disclosed. We created a site named to show people what the site and content would look like. The idea was to do a big reveal when we launched the site, Also, at the time, my kids were big time into Harry Potter, especially my daughter Kat, who read all the books five times.

Here again was someone asking for help. In this case, it made me search my company for the assets to be able to hire someone. Our biggest asset was goodwill, but goodwill is not cash. How do I turn the goodwill into cash to be able to hire my friend Jon?

Of course many people would just want to turn their goodwill into a pile of gold and keep the gold. But that is not the way I think. I think about helping people first. It is no small coincidence that I found success in a volunteer organization, the Boy Scouts of America, whose Scout Oath includes a promise to help other people at all times.

Love your neighbor as yourself. On Valentine’s Day, I shared that message at the beginning of the newsletter, and it was intentionally disjointed. Valentine’s Day normally focuses on Eros, or romantic love, but it can include Philia (friendship love) and Agape (unconditional love). I was including the latter two in my message.

I see Philia love and Agape love as part of goodwill. So rather than just turning the goodwill into money for me, which makes no sense to me, I would turn it into a product for the industry that would help the markets grow and develop and help people manage risk. The earning money thing would come after the goal of helping the industry and helping my friend. Yes, it grew my company and the opportunity for me, but those are the positive results that come from serving others.

I am a big believer in the power of goodwill. Some might call it karma. I also believe in good luck and that luck is where preparation meets opportunity. Preparation takes a lot of hard work.

I have been very lucky, as I have put in a lot of hard work and opportunities have presented themselves that I have been able to take advantage of to move my career and company forward. I have been blessed by people who come knocking on my door, wanting to work for me. I have been blessed with hard working, talented colleagues.

Most importantly, I love what I do. I love helping people and I believe the John Lothian Newsletter and John Lothian News makes our industry and markets better by saving participants time and money each day. I believe that JLN helps make the markets better, which helps feed more people, clothe more people, house more people and help them save for their retirements. I believe in that mission, and all of that comes from the power of hard work and a big pile of goodwill.

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

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