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The Buy Side: A Wall Street Trader's Tale of Spectacular Excess Hardcover – June 4, 2013
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Q&A with Turney Duff
Q. When you had big money coming in, you were spending as fast as you got – sometimes on bizarre over-the-top purchases. As a small-town kid from Maine, did you ever look in the mirror and say, “What the heck am I doing?”
A. Yes, but I probably didn’t use the word “heck.” I would have moments where I’d say to myself “I can’t believe this is my life,” which likely only added to the excess. My attitude was, “What’s the point of making a lot of money, unless you’re going to enjoy it?’” so I tried to enjoy it. Conversely, when I was bottoming out, I constantly was saying to myself, “What happened?” The real danger comes when people start equating net-worth to self-worth.
Q. You seem to have been the Einstein of networking, a guy who made being a party animal work for him in a big way. Why do you think the social aspect of Wall Street came so easy, and did it startle you when you realized that having a high social I.Q. could be more profitable than “reading the tape” or being a quant?
A. I’m flattered but, please, I wasn’t the Einstein of anything. I just didn’t have any other skill to rely on and I’m very social by nature. There’s no magic to it, I just treat people the way I’d like to be treated. But I don’t think I ever had an “ah ha” moment where I realized this was the key to success. I just knew that whatever I was doing was working, so I kept doing it. I guess this could add to the I.Q. vs. E.Q. debate. (Oh, and by the way, I understand Albert was also a big fan of shaking the snow globe.)
Q. You worked for Raj Rajaratham, who was convicted of insider trading on an unprecedented scale. Do you think that insider trading is endemic to Wall Street’s culture?
A. I can only speak to what I saw and experienced but I think it’s headed in the right direction now. When I was placing bets on the market, Wall Street had convinced itself that the area of insider trading was very grey. It felt like a victimless crime. The thinking went, to compete you have to bend the rules. It’s not all that different from the steroid era and Major League Baseball. There are a lot of guys whose careers have asterisks next to their earnings. As long as there’s big money at stake people are going to cheat. That’s not only how Wall Street works, that’s how the world works. But with the spotlight now on Wall Street it’s harder for inside traders, and it’s getting harder all the time.
Q. Has Wall Street grown less trustworthy? Should we credit what those in power have to say about their integrity?
A. Believe it or not, there are plenty of people with integrity on Wall Street. I was there during 9/11, and there wasn’t a more courageous and patriotic place in the country. Ironically, as more negative press comes out we should probably trust the trading community more. The jig is up. Sure, we’ll still see some bad guys get taken down now and then, but my guess is, the majority of people are playing by the rules. It’s all fear-based now.
Q. The book describes in vivid detail some of your most vulnerable moments – truly jaw- dropping addiction. At what point did you realize that, without help, you’d be unable to pull out of your downward spiral?
A. I made the decision a year after my first rehab that I was only going to relapse once. I knew that I couldn’t just have one, or party just a little, so I told myself that I would blow it out one night and then get back to recovery. After that night I told myself I was allowed to relapse once a month, very private and nobody gets hurt. Soon after, I told myself that I could party twice a month and before I knew it I was right back where I was before rehab—even worse. So by the fall of 2008 I knew there was no end in sight. Something was going to break, but I didn’t have the courage to stop it myself. I had to crash.
Q. Ultimately, what pulled you back from the brink and made you say no to Wall Street’s seven-figure seduction was your daughter. You don’t hold much back. Do you worry how she’ll view the book when she’s old enough to read it?
A. The two people I wasn’t sure I wanted reading this book were my daughter, Lola, and my mom. But once I decided to write it I was fully committed. I can’t predict what my daughter will eventually say, but at the very least she’ll know I was honest. All I can do is show her my love every single day. It only took my mother a week or so to digest the book. Now she’s my biggest supporter. She says she’s proud of my honesty and courage. I hope that’s more than a mom’s take.
With the twists and turns of a suspense novel, this autobiographical account of the rise and fall of a hedge fund trader exposes the risks and liabilities of a career on Wall Street during one of the most turbulent decades of the financial industry. Duff’s 15-year career parallels the peaks and valleys of the stock market, from the boom of the 1990s to the tumultuous decline in the early 2000s. With unabashed honesty, he tells how he went from an entry-level position in Morgan Stanley in 1993 to successful trader on the “buy side” before his excessive partying and downward spiral into drugs ended his career and he had the courage to walk away for good. He exposes the occupational hazards of his high-pressure trading jobs, the lure of power and money when million-dollar trades were commonplace, insider alliances were useful, and collusion was a part of the business. Fast-paced and gritty, this is a fascinating and convincing portrayal of one trader’s challenges in a tough environment and his ultimate redemption. --Cindy Kryszak
Top customer reviews
I may find the subject matter nauseating but I flipped the pages incessantly until the end - I enjoyed this book, in the way that one enjoys watching the news of tragedy or the way one enjoys seeing powerful, corrupt people receive their karmic retribution.
The first part of the book, which I found the most interesting, describes the author's early career. He was a sales assistant at Morgan Stanley for five years doing grunt work before he was hired by the Galleon Group. Galleon was fated to become infamous because of its founder, Raj Rajaratnam's, later conviction for insider trading. The author describes his time there and how he got insider 'tips'. The second part of the book describes the author joining Argus Partners (a hedge fund formed by ex-Galleon staff), his party lifestyle and his cocaine addiction. The third part of the book describes the author's marriage, fall from grace and rehabilitation.
The book spends a lot of time describing the 'bad' things the author did such as womanising, taking drugs and engaging in illegal stock market practices. It sounded like it was cathartic for the author to unburden himself but I was disappointed in that there was not much I found beneficial in his description of hedge funds which could help me in my investing. In that sense, the book is more about a person's fall from grace instead of being specifically about hedge funds or stock investing. The stuff about Galleon and Argus felt like they were included to make the book more marketable. Ultimately, I felt there was little reason to feel sympathy or care for the protagonist.