First Day

It was a hot and humid morning on August 5, 1974 as I walked from my apartment to the Lexington Ave subway in my new pinstripe suit. This was my first day of work at Merrill Lynch. It was also my 25th birthday. I arrived at One Liberty Plaza soaked in perspiration from the crowded subway, but I entered Merrill’s headquarters anyway and took the elevator to the 28th floor where I had been told to report.

Only a few months earlier, I had accepted a job as an associate in the Investment Banking Division. Merrill was not yet a powerhouse in investment banking and CEO Don Regan had put the young and brilliant Tom Chrystie in charge with the goal of taking-on the icons of the time like Morgan Stanley, First Boston, Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs, Kidder Peabody, Dillon Read, and White Weld.

1974 was not a great time on Wall Street. The Vietnam War had divided the country, Nixon was under siege, and the markets were drifting nowhere. I was nervous but excited about joining this team. I felt the same atmosphere that the NY Mets must have felt. We were not taken very seriously by the “white shoe” firms but we believed.

For years I thought I would never join Merrill Lynch. I knew that many people would think I was there only because of my father, even though he had passed away thirteen years earlier. I feared that they would see me as a lightweight and protected by nepotism, just another rich kid working only for legitimacy. I knew I would have to work harder than anyone to prove that I was hired on my own merits. It was a challenge I was willing to take on.

What I quickly discovered, however, was an environment that proved to be special.  People worked hard and had high goals and expectations, but almost everyone I encountered was a really wonderful human being. It was a fun place to work and they treated me like everyone else.

I did not appreciate it at the time, but what made Merrill Lynch special was a culture, unique on Wall Street, that became known as “Mother Merrill.” This culture evolved over the years because of the principles that Charlie Merrill and my father articulated and carefully handed down to their successors. The client’s interest always came first. Integrity was everything. They believed in teamwork and respect for fellow workers. They believed in philanthropy and giving back to their communities. Merrill was not perfect and made many mistakes over the years, but these principles were the firm’s North Star.

I thought I would retire forty years after that first day. Fate took me in a different direction, but I look back on that day in 1974 and would do it all over again.

What are the memories of your first day?