In fact, many of the nation’s foremost financial minds had distinctly
humble beginnings. Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett, for instance, wasn’t
always the famed Oracle of Omaha. Once he was a fresh-faced delivery boy,
tossing newspapers into people’s front yards.
Reuters asked four Wall Street legends how their estimable careers started
out. Junior investment bankers and equity analysts they were not. Instead, these
Masters-in-the-Making were a ragtag collection of shoeblacks, stockboys and
They say the lessons they carried away from those formative gigs were as
important as any gleaned later on Wall Street. Here are their
Name: Brian Rogers
Title: Chairman and
chief investment officer, T. Rowe Price
First job: Retail
“This was back in 1971, and I worked at a little store called Suburban
Quality Shop in Danvers, Massachusetts. This was before the days of Staples and
Office Depot, and they sold stationery and office products and greeting cards.
My job was to basically unpack products, price them with hand-applied labels and
keep the shelves stocked.
“Probably the most exciting day of my life was when I got a raise from the
minimum wage of $1.60 an hour to $1.75. It seemed like such a huge increase back
then. It was way better than my best bonus at T. Rowe Price. I also remember
getting my first paycheck, which was around $40 for the week: I may have saved a
little of it, but I probably spent most of it at the pizza place next store.
“I don’t think the owners thought they had hired anyone special. They just
thought I was reliable, someone who showed up and worked hard, and who probably
wouldn’t steal from them.”
Name: Charles Bobrinskoy
Title: Vice-chairman and director of research, Ariel Investments
First job: Coca-Cola vendor at Chicago Cubs and White Sox baseball games
“I was 16 when I started, and when you first got into the union, you sold
cups of Coke. You spilled sticky soda over yourself all day long, so by the end
of the game you were a sugary, sweaty mess. It was really unpleasant.
“After that you graduated to peanuts, then to hot dogs, and then when you
turned 21, to beer. That’s when you could really make the big bucks, maybe $200
on a good Friday night. At Wrigley Field people liked Old Style, and at Comiskey
Park they liked Falstaff. Nobody ever wanted Schlitz.
“Ariel’s chairman, John Rogers, was a vendor at the same time, and he was
spectacular. He was incredibly competitive and a great athlete, always running
the stairs to get to the best locations. At the time, we had been given some
stock as Christmas presents: He owned some General Motors, I owned a few shares
of the auto-parts supplier BorgWarner. We used to sit in the stands together as
we waited for the fans to come in, talking about the stock market.”
Name: Karen Finerman
and president, Metropolitan Capital Advisors; author, “Finerman’s
First job: Gofer at Creative Artists Agency
“I worked for $5 an hour, which seemed like so much money at the time. I did
everything from filing scripts, to cataloging art for Michael Ovitz, to working
as an assistant for Richard Lovett, who had just been made an agent and now runs
the whole show there. But basically my job involved a whole lot of nothing.
“I did learn a lot about client management, though, and handling all those
huge egos. I remember once I heard an agent talking on the phone to her client,
saying, ‘I know when you got on location, they gave you a Jeep. Now, where is
that Jeep?’ With some of these stars, you had to talk to them like a
“I realized that summer that Hollywood was not going to be a long-term fit,
and that I really wanted to come to Wall Street.”
Name: Jim Cahill
First job: Shoeshine boy
“I grew up on 30th Street between 9th and 10th Avenue, in Manhattan, and I
used to shine shoes in the garment district. I would make 10 cents a shine, and
had my own shine box and my own polish. I was around 12 or 13, and used to hear
my clients talk about things like sales and fur coats.
“I also sold newspapers: I would buy 50 or 100 editions in Penn Station of
the Daily News or the New York Mirror. I would get them for 2
cents each, walk along the bars and restaurants of 8th Avenue, and sell them for
5 cents each. Sometimes a guy coming out of a bar would give me a dollar, and I
thought I was rich.
“I also used to drag a red wagon along the Manhattan piers. I would pick up
all the bottles the dockworkers would leave behind, and bring them back to the
store for the 2-cent deposit. Later, I would go on to work on Wall Street for
Salomon Brothers, and Lehman Brothers, and Keefe, Bruyette & Woods. But it
all started because I was an inner-city kid who didn’t want to have to ask his
mom for money.”
© Thomson Reuters 2013