The Secret Broker: Close your eyes and think of England… floating away down a river
The Secret Broker
The Secret Broker
After 35 years of stockbroking for some of the biggest houses and investors in Australia and the UK, the Secret Broker is regaling Stockhead readers with his colourful war stories — from the trading floor to the dealer’s desk.
When I got my first job in broking at 16, it was just before Christmas. I literally left school on a Friday and started working for a partnership that was 150 years old, on the Monday.
I would, for the next 13 years, spend it commuting on a train back and forth to my job in the City of London.
It would take me an hour and 15 minutes door to door, if I got a fast, limited stops train but missing my 7.45am train was a disaster. The next ones were ‘all stops’ which meant I would arrive half an hour late for work.
Work started at 9.30am and finished at 5.30pm, five days a week and for the first five years, I was still living at home, so the weekends were the time to play up locally, rather than with work colleagues.
I could walk to the station from home in 10 minutes, so no car was required. That meant I did not have to worry about having a drink or two before catching my evening train home.
So, on my first day of work, I was asked if I wanted to go for a drink at lunchtime. I sort of said that at my age, I didn’t think I would be allowed in. I was told: “Don’t worry about that, we’ll take care of it.”
In those days you had to be 18 years old to get a drink and it was up to the landlord of the pub to determine your age by asking your birthdate.
I needn’t have worried, as in a busy city pub I just blended in and never once got asked my age. In fact I would be introduced to all the landlords as a ‘newly joined member’ of the firm and this would result in me getting a free pint ‘on the house’.
Whilst all my old school friends would be queuing up for their school lunch, I would be drinking pints of beer with my new-found friends – and boy, was it fun for me.
Sixteen years old, drinking at lunchtime, smoking in the office and a train ride home (partly sleeping it off) to one of mum’s cooked dinners. And at weekends I had the cash to flash!
There were 13 different pubs to choose from in our little town, so weekends were a continuation of my work routine, with a Sunday lunchtime session being the very best.
At this time in the UK, on a Sunday, the pubs would open at 12.00pm and close at 3.00pm, so when you had finished your session, it was back home for one of mum’s Sunday roasts.
Normally a frozen leg of lamb from New Zealand with all the trimmings would be followed by us all watching the BBC’s soccer ‘Match of The Day’ on the telly.
When I say watching, it was really more like watching Jimmy Hill (who could forget that chin?) for the first five minutes and then sleeping through the rest of the program, before being woken with a cup of tea.
Being introduced to the delights of socially acceptable drinking at that age meant that this carried on for the rest of my career and it reached its peak when I was given a corporate AMEX card with the brief, ‘use it to bribe them, without actually bribing them’.
The ‘bribe’ became ‘paying the tab for long lunches and after work drinking sessions’ with clients of the firm and I can tell you, if you stopped entertaining them, they soon forgot you.
If you were being a good boy and decided to go ‘on the wagon’ for a few weeks, you would eventually be called in to a meeting where it would be explained that management is ‘concerned about the lack of spending on the corporate card and the lack of client entertainment’.
When I finally did hang up my order pad, it took me over six months to not need a lunchtime drink. That’s how badly my brain had been wired.
On top of that and still till this day, I only get four hours sleep before I am wide awake. Thanks to the internet, I can get up and read or write articles.
Before then, I had to wait for the local newsagent to open up at 6.00am before I could get my hands on the FT.
The main reason I retired and walked away from broking was because of the drinking culture. The other was a moment when, after a long lunch with some other brokers, I was introduced to one particular broker from Macquaries who was so fat his arms couldn’t reach his plate.
He told me that he had been through three booms and busts during his career as a broker and that he still loved it.
All I could think about was “Mate, you’ve been through three booms and busts and you still need to work”. So after that lunch, I decided to just… walk away.
We had just been through the dotcom bubble, so there was plenty of cash in the system and it was time for a change.
Since then, I have witnessed more than five close colleagues and drinking buddies drink themselves into an early grave, as they were never able to walk away and change their ways.
I have been able to survive it all and come out the other side, with still healthy organs and young-looking skin.
How did I survive all of the stress and pressure? That was due to a little secret I had up my sleeve and which I still use today.
As I mentioned earlier, I only sleep for four hours a night but what I didn’t tell you is that I have an afternoon nap every day and that I have learned to go to sleep instantly, anytime, any place.
I drive others mad with my ability to instantly fall asleep but if they listened to how, anyone could do the same.
It really comes down to sleep being an alternative to meditation, and it doesn’t require you to sit cross-legged on the floor.
When you sleep, you have no worries in the world but when you wake up, all the worries in the world are still there, but you have managed to distance your mind and body from them.
Over time, you learn to fall asleep, no matter how stressed or anxious you are. In those early years of broking, after lunch I would find a quiet toilet stall, put down the lid and just rest my head against its wall and sleep for 15 minutes.
Then I would reappear, sharp and refreshed and ready to tackle anything that needed urgent attention.
So, what’s the secret to being able to instantly fall asleep?
Well, it’s being able to do a few mental exercises.
The first one is to imagine that you are sitting on a river bank and next to you is a big chest, like the ones the pirates use to put all their treasures in.
You open up the chest and mentally put into it all of the people that are currently taking up all of your attention, close the lid and float the chest down the river.
You can hear their voices fade away in the distance and you know they will reappear again down river but now you have an empty mind.
You then find yourself at a nice beach and mentally feel the warmth of the sun on your back or go for a swim in the warm waters, diving down to the waves and watching all the fish swimming around.
Now, you have a clear mind and no worries in the world.
Another trick to use if you are awake and stressed is to sing a song in your head, or if in the shower, out loud as this brings you into the here and now.
Past or forward thoughts no longer exist if you are singing a happy song, as you are in the moment. That’s why dogs are so happy. They just live in the moment. Even a stick will keep them happy.
The reason why I decided to write about all of this was after reading an article about Nick Gorman, who burnt himself out. He now helps traders and brokers with their mental health.
He has a site here which explains what he does, which is great. Back in his – and my – time, no such help existed.
You just had to get on with it. That’s how I managed to train myself up to instantly fall asleep and detach from the rest of the world.
It’s why I am still here today, whilst others aren’t.
Feel free to contact him with your best stock tips and ideas.