In Honor of Our Veterans

This past Monday our nation honored its veterans of war and their families. For the past dozen years, our country has been at war with terrorism. We all “know someone” who is either serving or has served. It is because of these relationships that the ceremonies we watched or participated in earlier this week carried more meaning and less pageantry. 

Our industry has been fortunate to attract many veterans over the years. Their impact can be seen on our trading floors, back offices and board rooms.  It therefore remains vital that each of us as individuals do what we can to bridge and foster relationships with those returning home and to the workplace.

Like most of us, I did not serve in the armed forces and, to be candid, not having had that experience caused me to feel a certain amount of inadequacy and guilt — two emotions that do not help build relationships with those who have served. Over time, that changed and I am pleased to say that today, I know some of the finest people our country has to offer: our nation’s veterans and their families. I’d like to share with you some of my personal experiences, and truly hope that if any of you feel the way I used to, then perhaps there is some insight from these stories that will help you move past those worthless emotions.

I hit rock bottom when I tried to use the military alphabet when yelling MSFT across the trading floor: “Macho, Solo, Franco, Tequila.” “STOP!” was all I heard from the peer whose friendship I was hoping to garner. “It’s Mike, Sienna, Foxtrot, Tango. You gotta stop hacking up my alphabet. It’s killing me.

For Wall Street historians, when WWII broke out an individual named Charlie Merrill left his start-up financial services firm and enlisted in the Marine Corps.  Upon his return, Charlie hired hundreds of veterans who brought integrity, and the courage it takes to have it. By the time I started at Charlie’s firm in 1992, Merrill Lynch was considered something of a cross between the Marine Corps and every other branch of our nation’s armed services. I know this sounds silly, but there was great comfort in knowing we could survive an offensive military attack from Goldman Sachs. In my early years at Merrill, most of the military people I encountered were my peers. We had the same title, working in a competitive environment under the every-present conflicting message of “work as a team, but distinguish yourself from your peers so you can advance your career.” My early attempts to “make friends” with my military peers fell miserably short. Trying to identify with them by telling stories of my uncle who fought bravely in World War II did not get the desired response. I hit rock bottom when I tried to use the military alphabet when yelling MSFT across the trading floor: “Macho, Solo, Franco, Tequila.” “STOP!” was all I heard from the peer whose friendship I was hoping to garner. “It’s Mike, Sienna, Foxtrot, Tango. You gotta stop hacking up my alphabet. It’s killing me.”

Over time I did establish several good friendships, but it took honest conversation and humility to find out how. First, I came to realize that you do not need to carry a rifle to serve our country. A strong military requires a strong economy. Our industry and our individual roles play a big part in creating a strong economy. Second, the best way to build relationships with those who have served is to conduct yourself with dignity and honor. Be true to yourself, your firm and your peers. Third, express appreciation for their service and you might receive from them appreciation for the work and sacrifices you made in getting your job. Lastly, if they are open to it, share your knowledge and experience and offer guidance, to help them find opportunities and ease their transition back into the civilian workplace.

Veterans Day has taken on new meaning in our country and our industry as the sheer volume of individuals returning home and to the workplace increases. It is vital for our personal and economic health to do what we can to build relationships with the best people our country has to offer. So, thank you to all who have served and are serving. Your unselfish actions serving our country are appreciated and your contribution to our industry for setting the bar on integrity, courage and honor is invaluable.

This letter is dedicated to those veterans I have had the privilege to work with: Andrew, Peter, Arthur, Ryan, Jimmy, Billy O, D-Rock, Sean, Johnny, Jim, TK.

See November Newsletter here