MF Global and the Cab Driver who drove me to Manhattan
Last week, as most of you heard, MF Global, a major holding company for broker-dealers, ended up going belly up, with questions now being raised as to whether or not there was major fraud occuring. Oh, also, the former Governor of New Jersey, Jon Corzine, headed the company. $600 million dollars of client money is missing. Thats….$600,000,000.00 dollars…that disappeared. No one knows where it went, yet. The sad state of our financial affairs.
Around the same date that MF Global filed for Bankruptcy protection, I took a cab from my Sheepshead Bay office to my Manhattan office. I usually take the train, but that day, for one reason or another, I did not. The driver picked me up in a beat up old Toyota 4Runner with horns on the grill. That’s horns on the grill. The conversation would change my perspective on things for some time to come.
The cab driver told me about working for a prominent law firm a few years back, only to be let go when the firm went belly up after some accusations of wrongdoing (happening more often these days). He couldn’t find work in the legal sector because of his affiliation with his former employer, so he did anything he could to feed his family. I mean anything. He did construction work until the gas it cost him to get to his job in Connecticut ended up costing him almost as much as he was making for the day. He worked in a pizzeria. He sold trinkets on the street. During that time his wife left him. He told me that he never thought that would happen. 17 years of marriage down the drain once the money stopped coming in. But then a funny thing happened. I noticed he never once frowned or complained. He took what life gave him, what this crisis gave him, and with it he shaped a new life. He’s happy because his “scenery changes every day” while driving a cab. He met someone new, with whom he fell in love; with whom he sells vitamins (yes, I’m serious) for extra money. She treats him incredibly well, he told me. And he misses none of the things he thought he would.
When the cab driver pulled up to my street, I asked him how much the cab fare was and typically when a driver doesn’t know he’ll call the dispatcher and ask. But instead, said “I dont know. Whatever you think it typically is.” I paid the man and thanked him. I did so sincerely.
Somewhat dumbfounded, I stepped out of the cab and looked across the Financial District of Manhattan. The area where bankers make money for themselves, and for New York City. Where Occupy Wall Street, whether you agree with them or not, protests peacefully not two blocks from the epicenter of the financial world against companies and government allegedly run amok. And I thought of MF Global, and the millions of dollars missing from its books. The countless lives likely harmed as a result. And of a Governor who was painfully close to becoming the next Treasury Secretary. I came to the realization that the storm is far from over. The Country continues to balance precariously between a rebound and falling back into this deep recession that we can’t seem to lift ourselves out of. But amongst all of this lost money and the realization that the security blankets that kept us safe at night were nothing more than a mirage (a hope or a dream), we still continue to persevere and move on and build new lives. The very companies that were supposed to keep books and manage risk and ensure they were safe from implosion are the ones that are showing us that no one and nothing in this climate is immune. That people who have gone broke have nothing to be ashamed of. Understand that if you find yourself in the same position as this cab driver, or of any of your neighbors, that you’re not alone. In fact, you’re likely not the minority anymore. The pillars that will support us as we rise again wont be companies like MF Global, but rather the hard workers that we are surrounded by every day. The undefeated ones who refuse to accept the cards that have been dealt and instead make their own deck to play with. This cab driver reminded me how difficult times are, and how much better they will ultimately be. All of my clients, past, present, and future should take solace in that.