For Part 1 of this interview between our VP of Customer Success Kara Grygotis and Margie Teller, see Breaking Through: Margie Teller, Part 1.
Kara: In addition to Friends for the Cure, your foundation for diabetes research, what other projects do you have in flight?
Margie: I just finished a novel titled Front Runner, a financial intrigue story with a touch of romance. I’ve been working on it for just about 13 years. It is now officially a period piece. So that is done, though it’s not published yet. And the thing that’s really taking up a lot of my time now is a TV pilot I’m working on about the trading floor from 1986 to probably about 2005. I’ve been working on that for about 18 months. The pilot should be written within the next six weeks or so, which I’m excited about.
Kara: That’s pretty cool.
Margie: And then we’re doing it on spec, so we’ll see where it goes. If anybody has stories, contact me. Because there’s nothing better than the real thing. The truth of the trading floor is definitely much more interesting than any fiction you could create.
Kara: That’s exciting. I’m sure there are plenty of interesting stories that would make for good TV. Do you have any advice for someone transitioning out of trading?
Margie: It’s a really tough transition unless you have…the means. My advice would be to follow something that you really, really always wanted to do. And do that. Follow your heart. Do things you never thought you’d do. Because for those of us from the floor, it’s very, very hard to work for somebody once you’ve been on the trading floor.
Kara: I can imagine.
Margie: You’re not really allowed to call your boss the names that we called each other down there. The other advice would be, if you can do it, have some sort of company where you’re in charge. The thing that most people from the floor don’t realize is that they were running a business. You ran a real business. You had payroll and you had people. You have a skill set that you don’t know you have.
Kara: So you just finished writing a book. Are you reading anything particularly interesting?
Margie: Well, I love trashy novels. I also just read a book about Russia, about when we put the Magnitsky Rule in effect. And that book was really, really interesting. If I could remember the name, I’d tell you.
Kara: I can look it up. [The book referenced is Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice by Bill Browder.] What was the thought that ran through your head when you first heard the news about the floors closing?
Margie: I think it was actually worse watching them dissipate. It was really sad because it used to be the most vital place in the world, and everything came through there. News events would come up on the screen, and we’d see them first and react to them. It was kind of like being in The Wizard of Oz–the floor was color, and other things were black and white. They weren’t dark, but I’d wake up and it wasn’t like going to work. I was going in, and some days I’d be like, “Oh my God, I have to do everything. This is the mad scramble–I have to do everything I can to try to scratch this day,” because you start off so down. And other days, you’d go in there and everything would go your way. But those were once every millennium. I think that for a lot of people, there were a lot of marriages that disintegrated down on the floor. Probably much higher than 50%. I don’t know how a marriage could compete with that feeling of being on the floor. I used to carry a beeper around–you know, before there were cell phones–and we’d get market alerts. I was married at the time, and I’d be on the plane with my ex-husband, and literally swipe the credit card, and try to bail myself out of a position over the phone. In Singapore. On a plane. White as a ghost. There are bad times, but then the good times are great. Everyone would get so excited. When things are good, everybody’s happy. And when things are bad, you’re at home in a fetal position, and you don’t want to talk to people. It was a very unique world.
Kara: Do you still follow the markets now?
Margie: Oh, yeah, of course.
Kara: You were talking about how, in the pits, you were “insurers” of the market. How do you view the markets now, since it is very much electronic? Is it all smoke and mirrors? What’s your perspective on the integrity of the markets?
Margie: I don’t think that people care one iota about value. You can’t pick an individual stock and say, “Oh, well, Apple’s earnings are going to do this, and you’re going to do that, and they should rally, and they’re undervalued.” That doesn’t matter because everything is the index. If the index goes up for whatever reason, then Apple goes up. If the index goes down for whatever reason, Apple goes down. I just don’t understand how people can trade and think they have any edge whatsoever given the market’s integrity. I just keep going back to the flash crash. The market has buy orders and sell orders until it doesn’t. The crash of ’87–which was not right when I first started, but soon after–was a prime example of how we were insurers for the world. We put in prices. They might have not been prices people wanted, but we put in prices and orders got filled, and we didn’t close and the markets stayed open. And shortly thereafter, the markets rebounded and came back. But I don’t know if that happens here, if we have some sort of shock. It scares me to see that happen. There’s flight to quality, you know? We used to have flight to quality when a flight to quality meant that things could actually rally. When the rate is at 2%, what’s a flight to quality? It’s just a totally different world.
I don’t know how traders actually fit into this world. I just saw on the news that the market’s at historic highs, but Wall Street has cut 20% of its jobs this year. Which is ten years after we did the same thing. At one point, there were probably 25,000 people employed on the floors. I’m not sure, between all the trading floors. And most of those jobs were really, really good jobs. And now they’re nothing. There’s nothing. There’s a few people upstairs who program. There once were 25,000 people who could not only feed their family, but buy houses and do all this other stuff, and it’s just gone now. And I think that trading is only the first of the industries that are going to be disintermediated because of technology.
Kara: Your whole career has been very much a Type-A, very much on, environment for you. So now that you’re retired, you’re doing all these things, but how do you find peace? Personal peace, that when the day is done, you feel good.
Margie: Like I did something?
Margie: I think doing charity work, for me, is very important. It makes me feel like I am helping the situation. Especially when it’s your child, for example. That takes a lot of my energy and a lot of my time. Trying to create this TV pilot, bringing this world to other people, I think is important. It’s important for other people to see what this world was like. Because it’s such an integral part of Chicago’s history, and so few people know exactly what happened there. It was so interesting. There were so many dynamics involved on the floor. It wasn’t just the guys in the pit. It was the Leo Melameds, and the Jack Sandners. People who were creating this world, only to take it away when they saw the tide turning. They created all this opportunity, and then they said, “You know what? In order to preserve the money for the investors, we’ve got to take it away.” It took me a long time to be at peace without needing the markets. I stopped watching the markets, literally didn’t watch the markets, for a number of years. Because things just seemed insane. But then I started itching and I wanted to trade again. We have days like today, when the market is down quite a bit, and volatility is spiking, that type of thing. I’ll watch the market because I do have money at risk in the market. But in general, I try to avoid it because it’s not healthy at this point in my life. Because you can’t go back. Every time I went back to trade, I tried to trade the same way, and at first I tried to trade small. But once you trade big, you can’t trade small. You just have this–I don’t know what it is–some sort of image of yourself. And then when people find out that you actually were a big trader, they come to you and they need you to fill that void. Which would not be the same for me if I were trading equities or something on the screen. It’s just not interesting to me unless there’s actual money at risk. It’s the same as anything: if you’re risking $1,000, then I’m just sitting in front of a screen and wasting my time when I could be out enjoying a beautiful day in Chicago.
Kara: Was there anything you did when you were trading on the floor to de-stress? Or after a hard day, how did you decompress?
Margie: When I had a bad day, I literally would come home and crawl into bed in the fetal position. I mean, literally. Which is really not good if you have a small child. If you had a really horrendous day, and then you had to do that for half an hour, then pick yourself up and try to be a normal person, and try not to take it out–try not to be as distracted as you actually are, thinking about everything that happened. I remember going home after a bad day and bringing home my dupes, and going through every trade to see what I could have done better. How I could have avoided this mess. And then I’d go through it all and figure out what to do so it wouldn’t happen again. And of course it happened again, and again, and again. But it was a very different lifestyle. I think to trade at that level is a very unsustainable lifestyle. Which is what happened to me after 9/11. It just became too much.
Everybody from the floor misses it so much. I talk to so many people because I want to get their stories, and I want to hear everything. For nearly everybody, it was their youth. It was the most vital point of their lives. I feel sad for people who never got to experience that feeling of being at the absolute center of the world financial system. And being a part of it. People would go out and have fun–and the stories. Everybody had a great sense of humor down there. It was so quick. And people had zero filter. There was no correctness. Which meant, as a female down there, you had to learn to let this stuff roll off your back immediately, you know. No crying in baseball.
Thank you to Margie for spending some time talking with us about her best memories from the floor. If you would like to donate to diabetes research, please visit friendsforthecure.com.