During my days in the academy, I had the extraordinary honour and good fortune to interact (at some level or another) with some ten thousand undergraduate and graduate students. It is a rush when, while walking along a downtown street, a former student yells out to me to stop so they can share the story of their career so far. Indeed, these days I get emails and LinkedIn updates from former students who are now around the globe.
Every speech, every class, every conversation, was and is truly enjoyable. One particular group discussion always stands out in my mind. That conversation is one that happened almost every year with first year undergraduate commerce students, where I shared with them my life experiences in the capital markets industry. One of the points that I emphasized was that you can make a good living, but don’t do it for the money. Invariably, at the end of my talk, at least one student would ask,
I don’t blame them for asking this question. For one thing, the income one makes is a mark of success in an industry where, at the end of every day, you know whether you’re on the right side or the wrong side of a transaction from a profit perspective. To say that the capital markets industry is competitive is the understatement of the decade. Sadly, though, this drive for income ‘dominance’ can lead to the worst kind of hubris. I have met, and I am sure you have too, one or two folks who made good money and every year spent one dollar more than they made—on themselves.
But here is the secret to how to make more money than you ever imagined. Stop focussing on the money! Focus on your clients. In an industry where everyone is debating the issue of a duty of best interest, my advice is to reach as far beyond such a threshold as you can possibly imagine. Start with ensuring symmetry of information and then move on to laying your ‘forever’ reputation on every client interaction.
In my early life as a business executive, my lawyer taught me this lesson. It was the first big piece of legal work that I needed to have done. My lawyer did the work and sent me his invoice—a big invoice! I called him and said that I was having trouble with his fee. He walked me through it, but at the end said, “Paul, pay me what you think the work was worth.” He was my corporate counsel for the rest of my career and is a close friend today—some thirty years later—and he made good money from our firm.