A Business Lesson From a Cop on the Beat

My father, Charles Toes, recently passed away; he was 92 and for over 36 years proudly wore the uniform of a New York City Police Officer. He achieved the rank of Captain when I was in junior high, but this story starts before then. It was 1970, when my father, who at the time was a Lieutenant, received a “desk job” running payroll for New York’s Finest. This was a 9-to-5 job that still retained many of benefits of being a police officer at that time, like riding the Long Island Railroad for free. Back then, the law-enforcement model was a policeman walking a beat — walking the streets, interacting with merchants and citizens during good times and bad

Around this same time period, New York City was going through a severe financial crisis and was on the verge of bankruptcy, forcing then-Mayor Abe Beame to make the unpopular decision to lay off about 5,000 police officers and change the enforcement model from having  officers walking a beat to driving around in patrol cars. As Wall Street people, we can only imagine how attractive this idea looked on a cost-savings chart. And while there are no records describing how the decision came about, we can guess that is was some pencil pusher who said something ingenious like: “Mayor, you have 20 police officers walking a beat that covers 100 square blocks; if you put two cops in a patrol car, you can cover that same of area with three cars and reduce headcount by 40 percent.”

This is what the Mayor did. The cost savings materialized on day one.  Also on day one, the unforeseen negative consequences began their slow boil, so slow that they were not picked up in any crime-statistic report for years afterward.  

Having been off the streets for over six years, the unforeseen negative consequences of Mayor Beame’s actions were clear and obvious to my father’s eye. The ability of police officers to conduct their job were hampered by the lack of personal contact since moving off the corners and into patrol cars.  Furthermore, citizens and merchants had become distrustful because their only interactions with police were during highly emotional times of stress or problems. The combination of these factors made police work ineffective. And turning the tide on this trend was difficult, but was done when the data showed the real-life costs of this decision.

When everyone has the same thing, the tiebreaker becomes the relationship, the human touch. We as organization serve individuals because we believe in the human touch, we believe in the relationship.

Now, that is where this story ends and I know what you’re all expecting me to say something prophetic like, “The merchants represent the buy side, the cops are the SEC and the bad guys, well they’re HFT traders, and where’s the sell-side trader? They are the homeless people begging for change.”

Well, I’m not going to say any of those things. I’ll just say that this story was prompted by an article I read this morning on how speed in trading is becoming commoditized. According to the writer, everyone will have it. Now, when everyone has the same thing, the tiebreaker becomes the relationship, the human touch. We as organization serve individuals because we believe in the human touch, we believe in the relationship. We also believe our industry goes through periods of change, and at times, the human relationship gets pushed to the back of the bus, but it never gets kicked off. I therefore encourage all of you to never forget that.  While social media and technology has huge advantages in driving our businesses, we cannot lose sight that the human relationship is still vitally important to our financial and emotional well being.  And it can only be fostered by spending time with each other. That is one of the “value adds” STA brings to the equation. It is the ability to provide social forums that foster relationships IN TODAY’S WORLD.

This morning, I hit a button and sent an e-mail announcing our 80thannual conference. It went to over 12,000 people from my desktop. It had a 24-percent open rate, which I hear is good, but I stand here now, realizing that your opinion of me and your opinion of the STA can only be solidified in the conversations and time we spend when I step away from this podium, and not by this speech or the e-mail I sent this morning. So, thank you for listening to this story and I look forward to meeting as many of you as possible. Have a good evening