I spent 20 years on Wall Street, starting on the NY Mercantile Exchange in 1979 and ending at Deutsche Bank in 1999. Over these years, I ran half of the mortgage trading desk at Firs Boston, started a mortgage desk at Prudential Securities with a former adversary from Salomon Brothers (and we made it to the top of the CMO rankings and were printing money when Pro gave up on becoming a major force in the institutional markets, and wound things down). After that, I returned to First Boston for a few years as the head of Commercial Mortgage and Asset Backed Trading, and then it was on to Goldman, where I held the same jobs.
Finally, after being out sick for most of the year in 1996 with a work-related illness, I came back only to find that Goldman would not accommodate my need for a quieter work environment, and felt they could short my bonus despite a terrific year, so I responded to the intense recruiting from two former Colleagues at Deutsche Bank..
The Bank wanted to build a world-class mortgage department, and wanted me to create a Commercial Mortgage and Real Estate Finance Department to rival the big boys. It seemed ludicrously ambitious, but I had confidence from having done it before at Prudential and First Boston. Despite DB's Head of Global Markets, Edson Mitchell, having lied to get me to move - telling me he had already obtained all the Board and Credit Risk Management approvals needed - I worked through the process myself, and within 18 months we were in the top 4 with a bullet, heading for the top spot. Plus, we were making money at the rate of over $200 million a year! It was an amazing ride. Alas, late in 1998, the credit markets totally imploded globally, after the default of Russia and then the collapse of the biggest hedge fund in the world, Long Term Capital. Mitchell took the chance to purge any manager who was not completely under his thumb - which I most definitely was not - and cut my staff 40%. Nonetheless, the business I built remained, and within a couple years was back on top, unchanged from the machine I had built, where it remained for 20 years. It was like building a self-driving LeMans winner by hand, and watching them give it to someone else to sit in.
By then, I had soured on Wall Street. Everywhere I worked, except for Larry Fink at First Boston, and briefly Mike Mortara at Goldman (before he transferred out of the department) management were dishonest, thieving crooks. Whatever you think of Wall Street, the truth is much worse. I tried to capture some of this in my novel, Nothing Personal, by describing in simple terms how the "white shoe" firms manipulate and abuse their clients' trust. I decided that I had enough. Though several firms expressed an interest in bringing me on to build them a department, I'd had enough of reporting to people I did not like or trust.
I'd been sufficiently successful, and my wife had blossomed into one of the most important market forces in American Paintings as the Head of Sotheby's Department, selling massively expensive pictures to the wealthiest collectors, several of whom were willing to buy based solely on her advice. She was very busy, and very well-compensated. The idea of seeing my young children every day, and working from home held enormous appeal.
I spent the next 20 years going back to my first love, journalism, and landed a column in Departures Magazine, called Smart Advice for Smart People. These were personal finance and lifestyle pieces, some very functional - such as how to hire high-end domestic help or borrow against an art collection - and others more whimsical - the tribulations of becoming an organic home gardener. Every column generated a number of responses, and one of those responses, thanks to Dara's expertise, led a man with perhaps the greatest private art collection in New York, to contact me for advice and help. He was also one of the City's top developers. When I walked into his office, there was perhaps a half billion dollars worth of pictures on the wall behind him. How could this man possibly need cash? When I started peppering him with questions about real estate finance, he stopped me and said "what do you know about real estate?" I explained my background to him, and within minutes, we were deep into his balance sheet and his assistants were bringing me reams of documents. It was clear he had been getting some very bad advice, and there was a better way to solve his short-term problem. When you own more land and buildings in Manhattan than just about anyone but the government, there is always a solution if you dig hard enough!
That started my real estate capital markets consulting business. Since the end of the 2008-10 financial crisis, I have advised my clients on over $3 billion of transactions, among them several firsts of their kind, and more than one largest of its kind. The deal I structured for Trump's World Tower was unique - no one had ever separated the construction loan and "mini-permanent" financing before as a guaranteed takeout, or forward, before. Likewise, I create and implemented new and innovative structures for my clients. The major banks - JP Morgan, UBS, Deutsche, all competed for the business. One time, a developer was about to sign a term sheet with an insurance company when he thought to call me in. I snatched that term sheet out of his hand, and asked him for one week to deliver a firm commitment that would save him at least $10 million and not require the $25 million deposit. He hesitantly accepted my challenge. I delivered a 1.5% lower rate, with no fees, and no good-faith deposit, with far less onerous covenants. And I got him an extra $125 million in proceeds. Over the term of the loan, it would save him $45-50 million. I had a client and a friend, for life.
Having been a pretty good golfer from the first time I played, and developed it through the ubiquitous customer golf rounds all over the world, when I went on my own, I had time to develop my game. My handicap dropped from 4 to 0 to +1.7. I found myself breaking par almost every time I played. It seemed unexceptional to me, though I was a terrible putter. To my great shock, I won my Club Championship twice, and I started to write about golf a bit. The editors at Departures encouraged me, and sent me to some new luxury developments to investigate. This expanded to travel pieces, and my lifelong love for photography all resulted in my providing images for several features. Departures named me a Contributing Editor. Soon, I was publishing feature articles about great destinations, new courses or classic resorts. With my Press credentials, I got to play the finest courses in the world, often with the Club Pro. A personal highlight was beating one of the young studs at Gleneagles, where our game had attracted several dozen in a gallery. "Golf writers," he said "usually can't hit the ball like that." In several years, I had a sufficient number of pieces published to join the Golf Writers Association of America, though a broken neck in 2011 put a real crimp in my game. The down time got me focused on re-writing and finishing my novel, and I sold it in one try to a major publisher. Trump was kind enough to send a "blurb" for the jacket, which at that time was sure to help sales.
I have no desire to attract attention, but when a fellow writer calls, I like to be helpful. I have been quoted by the financial press from time to time, and wrote a piece about the coming failure of the brokerage firms and banks back in late 2007 for Fortune Magazine. They spiked it just before publication. It was picked up by Dow Jones Marketwatch in March of 2008, and all of its dire implications soon transpired. For those whom I advised and who listened to the article, the Financial Crisis passed without any loss of sleep. I told my friends in 2012 and 13 that it was time to hire a professional equities manager - I was not qualified to pick stocks, and it was clearly time to move out of bonds if you needed to make money to live on. I repeated the advice in 2017.
Generally I have been treated fairly by the press. This last experience has taught me not to trust the New York Times, as they have an agenda and will ignore or bend the truth to suit it. But, for a responsible reporter or author, as my Dad always said, my door is always open to help. I guess I don't learn that trusting human nature is a mistake. And I evidently need a haircut.
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