Friday, August 19, 2005

Questions, questions

It's funny after all these years, how you hear the same things over and over from different people. If I had a quarter in my account for every time someone asked me for a "hot tip", I could have retired a decade ago. Of course, there are a few loons out there as well. Here are some of the more foolish questions I've been asked over the years:

1. "Can you call me a few days before the stock market falls big to warn me?"
Hmmm... Yeah, I'll grab the crystal ball and check on it for you. All brokers have the ability to know to the exact moment the stock market will have a really bad down day. Watch out for Tuesday--Yikes! Just don't expect me to use the crystal ball to tell you a few days before the market jumps through the roof. You only wanted me to warn you about that next big down day. I can't use all my powers to watch both directions for you.

2. "Can you tell me which small company will be bigger than 'Company X' in 20 years?"
Sorry, I am not allowed to pass that information on to you, unless you tell me how much a loaf of bread will cost me at your family grocery store in the year 2026.

3. "Can you tell me how to turn my savings of $10.00 per month into a million dollars?"
Of course, but I doubt your great-great-grandchildren will be able to understand your babbling when you reach that magical amount.

4. "Do you know someone that can get me a few tickets to the World Series? I want to take my kids this year...."
I forgot I was also a travel agent in my spare time. I thought I was going to be able to sneak away and use all 20 of the tickets for myself, but you caught me. Feel like tagging along? Should we go ahead and liquidate your kid's college fund so you'll have spending money at the game too?

I always wonder if other professionals get asked crazy questions like I do.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Office Picnics

Summer is also the time for the office picnic. It's the same annual ritual: the assistants get together with the other nearby offices and plan out a picnic for everyone. Coworkers get to bring their kids and spouses, we eat the latest potluck creations, and the office managers all stand together talking by themselves while grilling burgers and dogs. Our latest picnic was this weekend.

As usual, a few of the guys decide that the rest of us should all participate in a softball game. I played sports in school, but it's been a long time since I grabbed a bat or tossed a softball. Even though I can shoot around 80 on the golf course, I complained about a back problem so I wouldn't have to play this year. I was the smart one.

Everyone splits off into teams and the game is on. In case your company is about to hold a picnic with a softball game soon, here are some things to consider based on what I saw this weekend:

First, the kiddies are cute and fun to watch, but they shouldn't be playing in the game. This was a lesson learned by one dad when his 9-year old son played in his spot. The boy was out on a routine play to first, and was not allowed to stay on base, since rules are rules with adults. Next time he batted, same result. On his third at-bat, he bounced the ball back to the pitcher, saw that he was going to be out again and threw the bat AT the pitcher. What do you get when you let kids play against adults? Bruised shins if you are the pitcher.

Second, there's always going to be one younger guy-- usually the new guy in the office--that wants to show off for the girlfriend and see how far he can blast the ball to prove what a stud he is. We had that guy too. He hit a high shot over the left fielder and circled the bases. After touching the plate, he began his "Big Hitter" routine of Tarzan yells and high-fiving everyone on his team. I don't know if it was a case of him showing off for everyone, or the fact that he had too many beers before coming to the picnic. Next year we are sending this fool to the store for more chips and drinks right as the game starts. Don't be that guy, and don't have him on your team.

Third, it's probably best to let the team with the boss win. For the third consecutive year the boss has lost, and he's none too happy. This guy is the kind of guy that thinks he excels at all sports since he played sports in college. After watching him swing a bat, I'm wondering what sport he truly played, if any. We hate to remind him that his college is nowhere close to a national powerhouse in any sport. He stomped off all dejected after the game, which didn't match his usual "rah-rah" personality that he uses to fire up the troops. He will be in a miserable mood on Monday, and God protect the newbie that has to go to him with a trade correction first thing.

Next year, maybe we can plan a picnic trip to an amusement park. These picnics are OK, but we need a change. The kids get to play and the spouses get to see each other, and the guys all have a good time joking away an afternoon. However, I'm tired of hearing the boss talk about running out of food and the heat, and for the third consecutive year, losing at softball.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

How do we make coffee?

I have to admit, it's pretty rare for me to be in the office and actually working on a Saturday, but here I am. Usually some of the rookies come in to the office on Saturday morning and work on projects or make calls. I had to be in today to create a proposal for a soon-to-be new client. It's a bit over $6 million when you add up all the accounts from this couple. I'm stealing them from some other broker at one of the bigger firms around town. (Thanks Junior! Appreciate you babysitting the money. I'll take over now and actually HELP these people.) Our computer system was down on Friday afternoon or I would have been done with everything and I would be ready for the meeting this week. Computers just suck sometimes. So, since I couldn't get anything done Friday, here I am on a Saturday.

It's actually interesting being here and seeing a few of the younger brokers. About the time I hit the chair in my office, one of the jokers came running by just laughing his head off. He stopped running by, apparently shocked to see me in the office on Saturday. Seems another rookie broker had been making coffee and somehow poured too much water into the tank, causing a huge overflow. How hard is it to know how to make coffee? Apparently pretty hard for this joker. What would the few clients he has think if they knew he screwed up on making coffee? Would they feel secure knowing about his talents? Anyway, his laughing buddy was on the run to grab extra paper towels to stop the coffee river from overrunning its banks.

I'm betting every Saturday goes something like this without the older guys around to control these newbies. Now I'll have to go on the web and look up the instruction booklet from our coffee maker, just so I can print up a copy of "How to Make Coffee Without Having it Run Down the Cabinets onto the Damn Carpet." Screw it-- I'll update you guys first, then get to the project at hand.

I think I'll stop by the mall later and see if I can find a sipper cup for the idiot rookie to drink his coffee out of from now on. Well, assuming he can get the top off the cup. Freaking rookies.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Interns

Summer brings us a batch of interns from the local universities. For the most part, these are hard working guys and girls, and they do get to see how this business really works. They work hard for their summer, usually two to four hours a day, for two or three days a week. This year, we had Smarty show up on the program. Smarty is a pretty clueless kid with a quick wit who thought he was going to get to spend his summer researching stocks and making recommendations. Smarty clearly had a Hollywood mental image of a Brokerage. The first project he was assigned to was stuffing envelopes. Not exactly "Bud Fox" at work, talking to "Gekko". For the newbies in the office (new hires with less than a year on the job), the interns are a welcome sight. The cruddy work of marketing gets dumped on interns pretty quickly-- producing mailings, envelope stuffing, creating databases, and all the fun stuff the newbies handle for themselves the rest of the year.

Smarty has been around for about a month now and he has worked hard. Unfortunately, one of our newbies has dumped some pretty crappy projects on Smarty. It was amazing that they haven't yet come to blows, but it's been close. As one of the three members of the hiring committee, I would normally send an intern like Smarty packing when he started popping off about a regular employee, but I got to see the crap he took from our newbie. So, I kept him around even after he made some pretty rude comments. If the comments about the newbie had been false, I may not have been so understanding, but Smarty was spot on. After getting sent to the office supply store for the fifth time in one day, Smarty popped off about our newbie and got a few laughs from a couple of the other brokers. The newbie hit my office before the close that day, and complained about Smarty, and I produced my best look of concern. However, I knew how bad Smarty had been pushed over the last few weeks, so I told the newbie that the interns were off limits to him for the rest of the summer. He was steamed about not having use of a personal gofer any longer more than he was about me not taking a hard stance against Smarty. Sometimes, you have to get a newbie's attention, and allowing borderline unacceptable intern actions sends a certain message.

I may have to recommend doubling the number of interns we accept next summer.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Golf

Summer in the office has never been great. Actually, summer is great for being out of the office and playing golf. Fortunately, I go out twice this week to play, so the week won't be totally shot. I wanted to work on my short game lately, so I'll have plenty of opportunity to do so this month. Some of the office staff, especially the ladies, take time off for vacation. I try to play golf, because before you know it, winter is here and it's "no golf season" then.

The clients are hard to get on the phone in the summer anyway. They bail out of town and drag their families to all those fun vacation spots around the country. The newly divorced head for some new spa or a cruise, or maybe to Florida to sit in the sun. The mid-level career types carry the kids off to an amusement park or camping. The retirees often run to their kids houses, but in the past they headed for Europe. At any rate, they get out of town, and it becomes impossible to get most of them on the phone. On top of their leaving, they start draining their accounts like they are in possession of Bill Gates' personal check book. Some of them might be his junior partner based on their assets, but they can flat-out spend the cash. You wonder if they will even have a dollar left in the account after they suck out all the vacation spending money. So, the choice becomes one of sitting in the office and leaving an endless series of voice mails, or ditching the afternoon and heading to the club. It's a hard choice to make, but I try to make the right choice about twice a week in the summer. Brokers have to play golf. I think it's in the bylaws when you first get licensed. You can't trust a broker that doesn't play golf. Seriously.

We had a new guy in the office one year, and the yearly office tournament was held about a month after he got hired. Trouble was, he sucked at golf. He was a 20-something hotshot that thought he could master anything by reading about it first. I guess that works if you're trying to master cooking, but reading to master a subject was his personal mantra. A few days before the event, he was reading a book on golf-- "101 Tips for Improving Your Game", or something like that. The afternoon of the tourney came, and since I was in charge of making up the pairings, naturally I put Hotshot in the first group. After the three senior guys put it in the fairway (and gave me a big ration of crap for hooking them up with the new kid), Hotshot gets up with his new Big Dog driver, takes a stance and creams the ball. The ball took off immediately to the left for the 9th green, skipped between two players putting, and plunked in the water hazard off the far side of the green. I still hear the guys laughing. Needless to say, Hotshot got a new lesson in playing with the Big Boys the rest of the day. The three senior guys kept screwing around with him and buying him beer. After the round, he asked me to not post his score for everyone to see since he had been "too drunk to play up to his normal level." I agreed, for the small fee of $40.00. It's a good day when you can get out to the course, play some decent golf, and make a bit of cash off the office newbie.

The following week, we started leaving golf balls on Hotshot's desk every time he headed for the John. He never did play in the office tournament again, but he had quite a drawer full of some of the crappiest golf balls ever collected. These new brokers will never get it, I guess. They have to play golf. Maybe we should add a question on our employment applications asking their handicap. I'll have to pass that idea along to the Boss.