Cold Calling Dead Men: Adventures of a Young Stockbroker – 1990’s edition

It was 1994 and after a few years of trying to get a job with a brokerage firm, I landed a job at the mother of them all – Merrill Lynch.

The bull!

I was 24 years old, fresh off my stint as an overly aggressive outside salesman and now I had a ‘real’ job as a Financial Advisor – the new name for stockbroker. I couldn’t wait to make money for the good people of Washington, DC.

Becoming a broker is first and foremost a sales job, you don’t need to know much about the markets, you just need to prospect. All day, every day. This was when they still handed you a phonebook and you ‘smiled-and-dialed’ your way to becoming a million dollar producer.

I slicked my hair back like Gordon Gekko, wore suspenders (you needed to call them braces) and bowties (the real ones you had to tie). Did I mention I was just 24? Becoming a product of Mother Merrill afforded you a certain arrogance – we were the best of the best, champions of Wall St., the largest retail force around, and our CEO’s came from the ranks of the brokerage unit, which meant that maybe one day I could be king!

My days consisted of getting in the office at 7am and leaving at 9pm. Cold calling all day long, in between 3 meals at McDonalds. I kept a call sheet and would make hundreds of dials a day in order to set appointments so I could convince the prospect I was the Financial Advisor they should be working with. I tried many different scripts that focused on dividend yielding stocks (income!) government bonds (tax fee income!) and municipal bonds (TRIPLE tax free income!!). These were still the days when brokers called prospects to pitch stocks and bonds. My best script was calling in reference to the info I mailed the prospect (I never mailed it, must have gotten lost in the mail…) to see what part of the financial markets they were interested in. That opened up alot of responses which allowed me to uncover opportunities to help.

One of the worst parts of smiling and dialing is when you would call a prospect and get their recent widow/widower on the phone. The horror of learning that their loved one died 2 weeks prior was overridden by the demanding voice of your branch manager in your head to gather assets and sell sell sell, so you tried to tactfully ask what kind of plan they had moving forward with the estate and insurance money. The next sound I usually heard was the phone slamming down. 2 dirty seconds later, I was dialing another prospect. The branch manager kept a chart of my account and asset growth. He didn’t expect empathy – he expected me to hit my training goals, and cold calling would get me there.

He told me to never leave voicemails.

My biggest client came from a voicemail.

Million dollar account. He was a Japanese man who worked for a local agency and he must have liked the message I left (I called about a gold stock that was hot at the time). After what seemed like millions of cold calls I finally landed a big client. He wound up opening accounts for his parents who lived in Tokyo. They did not speak English (so much for Rule 405 – know your customer). I gave the people in our back office fits trying to transfer stock from Japanese banks.

Aimless cold calling like this day in and day out, combined with my 3 daily visits to McDonalds and my nightly visits to the local watering hole to relieve them of their stock of bourbon (what 24 year old drinks Manhattans?) eventually led to burnout, 30 additional pounds and a wicked case of gout (again, what 24 year old gets gout?). I had one colleague who used to cold call until midnight – we were only allowed to call until 9p on the East Coast so this guy had a California phonebook he would use to prospect from 9p to midnight (he is a million dollar producer to this day – way to go Gene!).

I knew this was not what I had in mind when I thought I was getting a job on Wall St. I knew there was a better way, and years later when I went back to the retail brokerage side after years on the institutional side as a trader and then literally working on Wall St at the NYSE, I really learned to market myself a lot more effectively with strategic cold-calling and networking.

It was just another step in my learning that there was a better way to sell. Not stocks, but myself. And to tell the widow how sorry I was for their loss and kindly get off the phone.

So, have you ever cold called a dead man?



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For more of my sales stories/articles, please go HERE

When Someone You Love Has Parkinson’s Disease

My grandfather had Parkinson’s Disease for as long as I can remember. As I got older it got worse for him, I was still young and I remember laughing along with my cousins when he tried to sip his coffee. He always used a saucer and I can remember the rattle of cup on saucer as he tried to drink his drink and spilling it all over. We used to think he was doing it on purpose to make us kids laugh; as we got older and understood what he was dealing with the laughter stopped and the compassion started.

I used to love the smell of his pipe. What used to take a minute or two of his time to pack and light his pipe became a slow labor of love for him, trying to get the fragrant tobacco into the constantly moving target of the pipe bowl.

I witnessed the progressive degeneration in his motor function until he passed away at age 86.

All this to say, it was a shock when I learned my father was diagnosed with PD two years ago at the age of 79. PD is not supposed to be hereditary and I know my dad had at times worried he may get it and took solace in the research that said it wasn’t supposed to be passed along.

It started with a tremor in his right hand. I am sure when it started my dad must have freaked out a little but wrote it off as a sign of old age. 2 weeks later it turned into full blown shakes. A trip to the neurologist was inconclusive because once again research had suggested that PD was not supposed to progress that quickly. The first thought was that dad may have had some form of stroke or some other neurological disorder, but after more tests they concluded it was PD, and he started a course of meds, joined a support group and started to learn what he could about this disease in order to come to terms with it. The doctor said he was lucky to get it at his age so he wouldn’t have to suffer as long with it as opposed to those who live with an early onset diagnosis.

Mom has not handled the diagnosis well. She is scared, but like any good Irish Catholic, she internalizes it and doesn’t want to ‘be a bother’ to anyone about it. Same with dad. Getting info out of them is not easy. It’s one giant Parkinson’s puzzle piece to figure out how I can help and support the two people who rolled the dice 47 years ago and adopted me as an infant (They may say they were the lucky ones but I’m the one who won the jackpot with them. I was adopted from The New York Foundling, please support this organization).

How do you help the ones who have helped you the most, especially when they act as if they don’t want the help because they seem to be frozen with fear?

How do you help the man who taught you how to tie your shoes and now he has trouble tying his own shoes?

How do you help the man who was a track star in high school and spent so many years running who now stops on his way across the room to greet you because sometimes his gait gets reduced to a slow shuffle?

And how do you help the man who was an NYPD Homicide Detective and spent years in Washington DC alphabet agencies that may or may not exist (that will not be named so I don’t have to kill you) who never forgot a name or face when he starts to experience short term memory loss?

As their son, and the only child, I want to help and take care of my parents, especially because they have done so much for me (and for many years I neither recognized nor showed gratitude for it). I am making living amends to them for my years of ignorance. Having children of my own has given me a much better appreciation for my parents.

I have tried to learn as much as I can about PD and how I can help my parents as they work through the progressive stages of my father’s diagnosis. Thank goodness for his local support group and the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research and the many other resources I have discovered online.

I am grateful for the loving support of my wife and the research she has done to help me be able to help my parents have a plan for my father’s needs as he ages with PD.

Thanks for reading. If you have PD or are a caregiver to someone with PD, I would appreciate hearing about your experience with this disease.