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Three generations -- taken when Dreyfus Corp. first traded on New York Stock Exchange
Getting a Job: Page Two
The most important part of my first Wall Street job was posting weekly charts, on a daily basis. I could have gotten a hundred jobs that didn’t have this requirement. It was pure luck because I developed an affinity for weekly charts, and put a large emphasis on them throughout my career. After I had been at Cohen, Simondson for six months, I passed a stock exchange test, and became a junior customer’s broker. Although I liked the business, I was not good at approaching people for commissions—it was selling again. But I got a modest amount of business from relatives.
After several years with Cohen, Simondson, I applied for a job as a full customer’s broker at Bache & Co.—and got turned down. Then I went to E. A. Pierce & Co., later to become Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Bean. Jim Schwartz, in charge of customer’s brokers, looked me over carelessly, and gave me a job at $75 a week, a fortune. I wasn’t worth it, and didn’t earn it for a long time. The E. A. Pierce office was spacious. There were tickers, an order room, and about thirty customer’s brokers. I was assigned to a desk next to John Behrens, who later became a partner of mine. Everybody in that office was nice, including Mr. Pierce.
On the day I arrived, there was a memo on all our desks from Lawrence Dennis, the firm’s economist. It was titled “The Third Great Boom.” I’m sure Lawrence was right more times than wrong, but not this time. That was the first day of the bear market of 1938. My weekly charts kept me out of trouble. In fact, my uncles made some money on the short side. When the market got through going down, business dried up. We had time on our behinds. When you have almost nothing to do, you think of something.
John Behrens had a customer, Mollie Snyder. Occasionally Mollie would come into the office to discuss investments with John, for an hour or so. I didn’t want her to get the impression that she was John’s only customer, which she was. From time to time I would bring John, from the order room, an execution of a fictitious order—Mr. Livingston bought seventy-five Coca Cola; Mrs. Browning bought two hundred U.S. Steel, etc. Mollie was impressed. John started getting a little cocky himself.
I’d noticed that people have sending machines and receiving machines. Many don’t have their receiving machines turned on very often. You’ll have noticed it when you are trying to make a point with someone. They’re restless to tell their side of the story and you know they’re not listening. This observation helped me win a bet. I bet a friend five dollars that I could say to Pop Melcher, one of the customer’s brokers, “My grandmother was eaten by the cannibals,” and not get a reaction. My friend wanted to bet more. A few days later Pop buttonholed me, and started what seemed like a long story. I motioned my friend over. After a few moments Pop paused to take a breath and I said in a normal tone, “My grandmother was eaten by the cannibals.” Pop nodded, and picked up his story where he’d left off.
There was a customer’s broker, Ralph Kershaw, who used to trade in commodities. His customers followed Lawrence Dennis’ recommendations. One week Lawrence recommended the purchase of corn, four days in a row. Each day it went down three or four cents and Ralph’s customers were taking a beating. When a substantial loss had accumulated, I got a back office friend to make up a memo from Lawrence saying, “Would take profits in corn.” When Ralph was out to lunch, I put the memo on his desk. Several of us were in on this. Ralph returned from lunch, started to sit down, and saw the memo. Halfway down, he straightened up, and his face got red. Then, memo in hand, he marched stiffly to Mr. Pierce’s office. We never heard what happened.
My Uncle Dave had sent me some stock certificates of bankrupt companies to see if they had any value. The certificates were impressive-looking but, as they say, not worth the paper they were printed on. One day I found a use for them. Pop Melcher was to become a partner of the new firm, Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Bean, to be headed by Charlie Merrill. One day Pop came in with an overnight bag and told us he was spending the night at the home of Mr. Merrill. I got my back office friend to make up an envelope, addressed to Robert Ruark, the firm’s best customer, with “Insured for $250,000” stamped on it. We put Uncle Dave’s certificates in the envelope, and made a hole so they would show through. I stuck it in Pop’s overnight bag. Later, Pop told us he talked with Charlie Merrill until about ten o’clock. Then he went to his room and took a shower. When he went for his pajamas he saw the envelope with the securities. This had to be reported. Pop brought the envelope to Mr. Merrill, who’d been sleeping soundly.
Now that I look back on it, I don’t know how I got out of that office unscathed.
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