42 years ago this weekend in 1972, I left England, that had been my home since I was 4, to return on my own to live and work in Canada. I lay awake last night thinking about the people and the stories from that time and was amazed - I could recall so much. (I first published this in 2007 - all my comments are from Aug 30 2007)
For my own fun, but I hope for you too, I feel compelled to write down a few stories of a time long gone in case I forget them later.
1972 was a different world. There was no oil or property boom yet. Swinging London had died in the 3 day week but Canada just post Expo was a shining beacon.
On the surface everything at home in England was all there for me. All my friends. My sisters. A lovely girl friend. Wonderful places to live in both London and in the country. But my parents were driving me mad and I felt that I had to be my own man and live far away from them - I did not go home for 2 years.
How strange it was to arrive in Toronto where I was to be a trainee at Wood Gundy. I knew nothing and no one but I was however supremely confident. I had just graduated from Oxford and I thought that I could do anything. I had a toffee nosed accent, weighed 140 pounds and had 10 Savile Row suits. Bryan Manning helped many a young man then look smart and it is wonderful to see that he is still doing this.
Friends of my dad had arranged a small apartment for me on Isabella street. It was then the centre of the red light district. In my building I was the only man and the only person who worked during the day. The girls and I would meet like ships in the night in the elevator. Each going to work or coming home at the opposite ends of the day. I had all my meals at the diner across the street. Hot Roast Sandwiches became a staple. I took all my clothes including socks to the dry cleaner - I never did find the washing machines. If I had I might not have been so lonely!!!
Wood Gundy was a small family in those days with only a few hundred staff. The firm had just moved from the old building on 36 King to the top 3 floors of the Royal Trust Tower. Charlie Gundy was very much around. Ted Medland had just taken over. (The old facade of WG is preserved in Scotia Place on the Adelaide side)
Mr Gundy always had a cigar in his mouth but was not allowed by his doctor to smoke. So he ate them instead. As the day went on - it became shorter and shorter. One of his customs was to come to the money market desk just before lunch to check on the dollar. I will never forget the day he met Harley Murphy who was also a trainee at the time. All the real traders had gone for a long boozy lunch - normal in those days - "How's the dollar?" asked Mr Gundy. "How the fuck should I know" responded Harly. He did not know who this strange old man with a cigar was. Mr Gundy walked immediately into the COO, Roy Beale's office. All the rest of us were appalled and stunned. Harley, who went on to have a great career, asked who was that man. When we told him he went white and ran for the Men's. Just in time. Roy Beale came on the floor with CG and looked at the empty and rocking chair. Harley, whose trademark was his bushy mustache, spent the day in the loo and shaved off his tache.
Investment banking in 1972 was a small club and not an industry. I had got an introduction to Jack Cole a year prior and had been interviewed over lunch with all the Montreal Team. It was a trial by fire made worse by the fact that just as the questioning began I was desperate for a pee and was stupid enough not to say so. After over an hour in the hot seat I could hardly move. Some how I managed to convince them that I had some potential.
I had been hired by the grand old man - he must have been at least 50!!! - of the firm - Jack Cole who ran Montreal. Montreal was then the centre of the financial world in Canada and while WG was HQ'd in Toronto - much of the action took place in Montreal. Montreal was also my native town. I had been born there and all my huge extended family lived there. When I had finished my "training" in Toronto I was to work there. Thank you Jack - now in investment banker's heaven united again with his dear daughter, Penny who long predeceased him from leukemia.
So I had to get through 4 months of Toronto in the early 1970's. In a city where I knew no one. What a shock it was for me. Plaid seemed to be what everyone was wearing. There were only 5 restaurants in the city.
One of which was Barbarians - still around. If you wanted to go out, you went to a Hotel. THE Place was the Sutton - smart folks began their dinner at 5.30pm. If you wanted a drink in bar, you had to remain seated. If you wanted to buy booze, you went to the Liquor commission and had to sign a chit. It was like buying porn in a bank. Steeles was like the North Pole - it was miles above the city.
The Munich Olympics were just ending in tragedy - but I found that no one cared about this. This was the fall of 1972 and the greatest national event since WWII was unfolding - the Canada Russia hockey match. The entire country came to a halt. I remember the final when there was no work at all. TV's were in every part of the office. In Montreal, the entire financial community had ended up in the Swamp, the bar under Place Ville Marie, when Henderson put the winning puck in the net - all the drinks were on the house. The tradition then at PVM was to have the Birdbath Martini. This was a huge glass that had I think 6-8 ounces. Those who know please give me the right number. It was thought quite normal to have 2 of these with lunch!
My boss in Toronto, was the wonderful, eccentric and talented Dr Peter Campbell - RIP Peter. Peter had had polio as a boy and I think that this and a great love of good whiskey finally did him in later. In 1972, Peter was at the height of his powers and it was a great privilege to be part of his team. He had got his PHD from the LSE and he thought that having a few Brits around would not be so bad.
The Money Market was the wild west of the business. It was all sales and trading and very frantic - when you got good at it - you might have 3 calls on hold & 4 trades underway - it was all verbal - and there were no computers or screens - you shouted out for inventory and a price was shouted back - all 40 of us. It was babel. You had to hold it in your mind as a picture of a river - the market!
Hundreds of Millions was done by 11.30 when the market really closed and you spent the rest of the day making sure that your deals got delivered. Think aircraft controllers plus and you get a sense. I was utterly bewildered and wondered how I was ever going to be able to do this.
The only way to learn was to do. So as a trainee you were sat next to some very experienced folks and you watched and listened for a few weeks. You then went to the Cage. The Cage was were the talk was converted into action - this was where the money and the paper changed hands. We were taught to see the whole process - not from a book but in real life. For a month I was a messenger. The guys in the cage thought this was hoot. There I was, an Oxford accented English gent with a legal briefcase getting lost in downtown Toronto. How could some like me ever make it upstairs?
I was pretty awful as a messenger but as a book keeper I was a disaster. For 2 of the worst weeks of my life I sat with a very patient woman, Norma, whose job it was to reconcile accounts. She would give me a ledger and ask me to find the problem. I never never could. She must have been appalled.
Then the big week. Like soldiering, in the end you have to get into the line of fire. Nothing Nothing Nothing has or ever will be so frightening except if I have a few minutes to contemplate my death.
You start with a few very small accounts. You of course don't know the people and you barely know what you are doing - there is also a new lexicon of technical jargon. You don't know the traders and you have no status. Thank you Dennis Parker for being so very kind to me. Dennis was even then THE MAN who ran the Issuers Desk. The last time I dropped in to WG dealing room was maybe 15 years ago and he was still THE MAN. Like the truly great in any field, he did not have a big ego and shepherded many of raw recruits into our early careers. The other person who got me and many other greenhorns through was Marsha Mitchell. She was a mother hen to all the new guys and a real star. She helped us all feel safe. We were all in awe and a bit in love with her. Think kindly Valkyrie. Thanks Marsha and I hope you are well.
But if Marsha and Dennis were mature self contained people. This was not the culture that prevailed in dealing rooms then.
But Egos were big then and now in dealing. Nothing then counted other than could you do it. The culture was all Marine Corps. This was a hard drinking, bad language Viking Marauder culture. PC had never been heard of. So I was also the witness of another milestone. At the time of my start a very brave woman joined us - Regan Wiley. The first woman on the bond desk. The first in Canada.
Regan was sat next to Brian Steel - the king of the street. Of course in those days we all smoked. Brian who usually said fuck every other word was silent for days. His coffee and tobacco consumption reached epic new levels. We in the room and the whole Street knew that an eruption was imminent.
Then it happened - Brian launched into a river of filth. The room fell silent. The Street fell silent...... all ears and eyes turned to Regan. Canada stopped. This was the moment of truth - could women hack it?
"I have heard that word before you know Brian" was her reply. The room and the Street burst into laughter and Regan, the bravest woman I have ever met, was one of the boys.
I as a toffee nose Brit had my Regan before me to make it OK for people like me. Chris Lyttelton, who has gone on to have his own firm in the City and who brought me later to London to work for him for 3 years in the Middle east in the late 1970's had preceded me. Chris has proven that while he was member of the aristocracy, an Etonian (I was from Harrow) and spoke funny that he was tough, a street fighter really, and a great salesperson. If Chris had not got there before me, I think I would have had a harder time.
My starting salary was $8,000 a year. In England it would have been L1,500. But prices were much lower then. In England if you spent L5 on dinner, your date knew that you were serious. I was soon criticized for spending $10 on a client lunch. You could buy a new Beetle for $3,000. The median house price in Toronto was about $35,000. The Vietnam war was ending. Long hair, side burns and flares were in as were platform shoes. Most of the men including me had mustaches. I have to say looking back that this may have been the ugliest fashion time of all. On the other hand music was still brilliant.
The world was safe - my cousin drove his Volks van across Asia - to India and back. Their only risk that they may run of of dope along the way. We were supremely optimistic. The Canadian dollar was near par. Beers in Montreal taverns were 25 cents. We had all discovered sex and the pill had made it possible.
What a wonderful time!!! Thank you all alive and dead (so many gone now) who helped me get settled. 1972 a very good year.