May, 2001 – I had just gotten back from training in the World Trade Center. I was a rookie with Morgan Stanley Dean Witter. As I wrote about previously, my job was to “cold call” for business. This was basically calling strangers and asking them for money. I had purchased a list of “Likely Municipal Bond Buyers” and had been calling. There were maybe 300 names on the list and I remember many of them to this day.

      I remember Anne, the eighty three year old widow that proclaimed “Doing nothing is a decision in itself”. I disagreed then and I think I still do now.

     I remember Mr. Sloane, the elderly man in ill health that had just sold his house on Delancey Street to move into Hathaway House, an apartment complex near Rittenhouse Square. I called him for months to have a chance at some of the proceeds from the house. He finally called one day and said he had a check for $50k to invest with me. The only problem was that I had to meet him at his dentist appointment in Center City to get the check. I did, of course. He was in the dentists chair when he gave me the check.

     And then there is Joe. Joe was on that list. I believe he lived in Trevose, PA. He was a nice man with a modest investment portfolio, maybe around $100k. I called him one day with the greatest sales line I had at the time: “Are you interested in Municipal Bonds?” I probably referred to them as “triple tax free” bonds as we were trained to do. He was and it wasn’t long before I found myself at his kitchen table. 

     Joe was retired, owned his home and was enjoying life with his wife, who was also retired. I remember him having an account with T. Rowe Price that I felt I could win. I remember the account being worth around $35k. I gave him the speech about how great my employer was and how much they spent on research, etc.. He liked all that. Or maybe he just liked me. Likelier still is that he may have felt sorry for me!

     I went back to his house for a second visit and I knew I had a good chance of closing the deal. I also knew, however, that there were going to be complications with the transfer. I believe he had some funds that we were going to have to sell in order to transfer. He said to me, “So you want to handle the T. Rowe Funds?”. He agreed to let me “handle” them.   I thought about it for a second. Transferring the funds to me wasn’t a bad idea but it was going to create a hassle that I know he didn’t need. I didn’t know him well enough to ask about his health but I remember the fine tremor in his hands.

     You’ve probably guessed how this one ends. I let him off the hook. I told him he’d be better off leaving things as is. It just wasn’t in my nature to upset something that didn’t need to be upset. I knew it was the right thing to do but I also knew I needed to find a new career, as I lacked the “lack of empathy” that this job required. Whatever! Some people would laugh at my decision, but I wonder who is laughing now?

     I never saw Joe again but he did call in a few months later, as he had come into some more money and was looking for the best deal on municipal bonds. I remember this call distinctly, sixteen years later, because I let him that the best I could do on the tax free bonds was SIX PERCENT!!!! It would be nice to see those types of tax free returns again some day. And, to top it off, he wanted to think about it!!! My, how times have changed.

     I’ve met many, many interesting people along the way. I’m not sure why I write about them. Maybe I like nostalgia or maybe I like to turn around from time to time and see how far I’ve come. Maybe I feel that I’m a sum total of all the people I’ve met in my life. Some people leave indelible impressions on us.

     I will share many of these stories. Some have good endings, some don’t. One has a client that threatened to shoot me over my handling of a $20,000 utility stock order! Some people are tough to please, I suppose.