Happiness Ltd.

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Dink: The Art of Falling Upward

Number three in a series: For about 25 years, I have worked on Wall Street, first as a reporter and then for several of its firms. “The Street” is a social ecosystem that is unique in its outsized effect on the rest of the world. Like the proverbial butterfly that flaps its wings and sets in motion a hurricane, the Street’ s everyday business can foster widespread prosperity or misery, often in unpredictable ways. In this series of blog posts, I hope to shed some light on a place that is opaque to outsiders. The names have been changed for my protection.

Dink has mastered the art of falling upward on Wall Street. Despite a career of failures, today he runs a $2.8 billion hedge fund company.  He’s an influential fundraiser for Republican politicians, and an increasingly popular guest on financial news programs.

The one thing Dink does well is make people like him.  He’s short and stocky with a huge grin and a wisecracking sense of humor. He is a great listener and can make you think you’re the most interesting person in the room.

I met Dink about halfway through his upward fall.  The trajectory started when he failed the New York City bar exam, but landed in a training class for Goldman Sachs analysts, at a time when the firm was expanding rapidly. After washing out at Goldman in a couple of years, two law school buddies found a place for him in their little hedge fund, whose only client was a Silicon Valley billionaire. After the billionaire cut them loose, Dink and his buddies turned up at the firm where I worked, a mid-sized investment company with a stodgy but good reputation.

Our CEO and his lieutenant, old Wall Street hands, decided these young men were the breath of fresh air our old firm needed. Hedge funds were hot, the managers talked a good game, and the billionaire’s name was an impressive calling card, even if he had dumped them. Dink and his friends were all named managing directors.

Dink immediately became the talk of the firm.  Before his arrival, he hired a team of Chinese feng shui experts to design his office. They brought in special furniture with rounded corners, a circular black lacquered table, and an elaborate fountain with bamboo plants.

He hired a personal assistant, a tall blonde woman with an Ivy League degree. In a firm of mostly male middle-aged financial analysts, she walked the halls like a gazelle among oxen.

In his first year at the firm, Dink seemed to be always dashing off somewhere.  He didn’t carry a briefcase, or even a laptop, unlike money managers who are forever searching through reams of data for the overlooked number or hidden sign that will give them an edge.

Then one day, about sixteen months after he had joined our firm, word spread that Dink was out.  Fired. The alleged reason why spread even faster: He had been caught in flagrante with the personal assistant, atop the black lacquered table – in the middle of the day.

Now, a top performer – someone who brought in millions for the firm – might have been reprimanded and given another chance. But Dink had been a disappointment.

And so he had failed again, but he fell upward. In less than a year we heard about his new venture: Selling hedge funds to small mom-and-pop investors, who, by pooling their money, could become eligible to invest alongside Silicon Valley billionaires.

It was a clever idea, and he wasn’t the first person to have it, but finally, Dink was in the right place at the right time. Money began to flow in, and Dink is still riding the wave for all it’s worth.

And he’s learned not to put all his eggs in one basket. Banking on his popularity as a commentator on financial news, he’s going to produce his own show, starring himself as host.

Nothing is going to keep the Dink down.