By Richard Matthews 23rdMarch 2018
As my index finger circles over the keyboard searching for the right letter, like a hawk looking for a field mouse my mind is often pulled out of the window to distraction. As my wife skips pretending to be a pantomime horse, to amuse our dog, I’ve noticed how quiet the world is this morning. A kind of hush has fallen and the animals have become hermits as a storm approaches. Not a spring storm but the last kick of winter is coming in. I love the excitement of a storm be it in the markets, in nature or just in daily life. Too often we drift along and accept life without thought or challenge until it turns round and bites you or in some cases just hits you firmly between the eyes.
As I sat in a boardroom on Thursday last week there was a hush as the combined executives waited to hear a presentation on recruitment. Recruitment. What do I know about recruitment? Personally I was interviewed by Peter Shafto, a Director at R.P.Martin in 1975, who simply met me in their boardroom , which as they often did then doubled as a bar/dining room. As this tall striking man walked into the room he simply got two glasses out, asked me what I liked to drink and on hearing Vodka, simply said in a cut glass accent, “I like a boy who drinks Vodka”. He then poured out an enormous drink , undid the knot on his tie and retied one end around the glass and used the other end of the tie like a silk pulley to guide the glass to his lips. I looked at him in astonishment and he said “If I don’t do that I spill too much. When can you start?” I started a month later and I’m not sure he knew who I was for a long time.
Forty years later I recalled this story twice last week once because one of the guys I started with strode back into my life Mike Tagg imaginatively nicknamed Taggy. Probably the only other survivor still involved in the markets who can recall recruitment policies like the one I’ve just described. I’m sure we had a trainee on one desk who only realised after a month that he was in the wrong office when he wasn’t on the payroll. He had come to the fourth floor on his first day instead of Simon and Coates on the third floor and we had accepted him in. I wonder if what happened to him? The broking equivalent to Paddington Bear. The other time, this week, I thought back to our old recruitment policies was when the force of nature Lee McQueen strolled in.
For those not familiar with the television show “ The Apprentice “ it is a talent contest that brought fame to not only Donald Trump but also to Lee who won the show in 2008???. His background is in recruitment although he without doubt would have made a great broker and he has reinvented the search for new employees and was pitching for a contract. He has several interesting ideas which not wanting to steal his thunder I won’t reveal apart from to say he really made me think. Does the employer chose the right candidate and does the employee chose the right employer. His processes are aimed at making the process more scientific, although they resemble a massive television game show they do make sense.
In the early days of broking in the interbank markets we just wanted to make money and enjoy life. I can her the refrain “I’m a money broker and I’m OK, I work all day and drink all night….” (The rest of which is censored) and it was true work hard, drink in Draycott’s and play harder. Our recruitment policies, and many still are, were based around hiring from the existing talent pool or the relatives of it. Some hires were impulsive like the ticket tout we hired at Refco, or the shoe shine boy that Salomon’s hired, these were based just on personality and drive. Personality and an ability for mental arithmetic which certainly Darren ( Dips) Cottrell , who loves to repeat the title of this piece, had both in spades. Unless the gene pool in a broker’s office is shaken up, thoroughly, you end up with too many similarities of style which breeds two things I can’t abide. Arrogance and laziness. I may be wrong but I would love to follow some of the youngsters that Lee unearths as I feel they will be exciting prospects in whatever career they chose, for sure they will have better training than I received which consisted of learning two facts. “Buy low, sell high” and “The secret of good broking is accurate quoting”, both great bits of advice but not entirely scientific.
The markets are sitting in a hush as well and one gets the feel that a force of nature is heading their way. Dollars are still being searched for in the deposit markets and a story is going around that there are not enough dollars in the system to be repatriated and synthetic dollars are being created. Hmm sounds like a bit of scaremongering to me but the rates will go higher. Whether the OIS market is warning us of something nasty lurking around the woodshed I’m not sure as the CDS market looks quiet calm but none the less perhaps we will see a flight to quality currencies like the Swissy and Bill and Ben.
The observant of you will notice that this column isn’t published by Livesquawk anymore. Some new exciting opportunities have arisen and even at my grand old age I can’t resist a challenge. It seems apt in the same week that the truly great broker and visionary businessman Michael Spencer is considering his future that I do. Now I am not fit to be mentioned in the same breath as a man who has raised £140m for charities and been at the forefront of broking for three decades but it neatly allows me to close this column with a comment about him. I’ve been the other side of the table to Michael a couple of times and walked away happy, which is the secret to a good deal, but also I was under no illusion who was far and away the shrewder and brighter of the parties and it wasn’t me. Indeed I had several opportunities to work with him and each time turned the offer down for no other reason than I thought I knew better. On reflection I didn’t. So here is a little hint for the CME who are rumoured to be buying NEX. Remember in negotiations with Michael, if you don’t know who the sucker in the room is, it’s you.
Richard Matthews, who began his career in 1973, is a former trader-broker in the London money, futures and foreign exchange markets. Twitter @dickiematthews5 website: www.theotherdoor.co