A former Wall Street trader shares his experience of what finance’s secretive gurus are like and how money changes egos
In a captivating exposé featured in New York Magazine, a revealing portrait of Steve Cohen emerges—one of the billionaire hedge-fund managers commanding the realm of SAC Capital. Within the intricate tapestry of Wall Street, two dominant themes materialize: his aversion to the limelight and his inclination to instill fear.
This duality is not an anomaly in the financial landscape, where it is preferable to be despised and affluent rather than adored and renowned. Within the finance culture’s hierarchy, the more influential an individual becomes, the less they crave popularity and visibility.
At the pinnacle of the Wall Street pyramid, we find the billionaire hedge-fund managers like Steve Cohen, masters of the markets who actively shun the pursuit of fame. Their ability and desire to operate beneath the public’s radar is a resounding testament to their true importance.
Garden-variety fame—just another affliction of the wealthy that wrongly aligns them with reality TV stars. Those entrenched in Wall Street vehemently reject such comparisons, particularly in their own minds.
This form of notoriety is akin to an irksome skin rash that demands swift attention. And as with all things Wall Street, the cure lies in lavish expenditures. In an effort to limit their availability, Steve Cohen has even ventured into acquiring the rights to photographs featuring himself. Yet, this seemingly idiosyncratic behavior is not exclusive to him but resonates throughout Wall Street, especially among hedge-fund managers. They flee from cameras, eschew interviews, and scrupulously avoid ever landing on Page Six. Unflattering news and compromising photographs are either silenced with monetary influence or buried through legal channels.
Within the hedge-fund realm, the disdain for fame often evolves into a full-fledged commitment to secrecy. If fame is considered a weakness, then secrecy becomes the emblem of success. True market maestros require no external assistance. They possess the extraordinary ability to unveil the underlying secrets concealed within the frenzy of digital blips on their screens, transforming chaos into golden opportunities. Holding such a coveted secret necessitates prudence in sharing it with others. It is far more prudent to charge exorbitant fees, allowing others to partake in the benefits derived from their exceptional knowledge.
Those appearing on television, dispensing investment advice, fall into two categories: the clueless charlatans masquerading as experts and the misguided souls foolishly giving away their precious insights for free. Either way, they are regarded as fools within the Wall Street echelons.
Furthermore, guarding these valuable secrets is enhanced through the cultivation of fear. New York Magazine’s depiction of Steve Cohen on the trading floor captures his commanding presence: an unyielding, unsentimental force, dominating all within his purview, and relentlessly chastising any employee who errs.
In the enigmatic world of Wall Street titans, Steve Cohen epitomizes a fascinating archetype—a remarkable blend of seclusion and influence, disdain for fame, and an unwavering pursuit of power. These larger-than-life figures hold the key to deciphering the intricacies of financial markets, thriving in the shadows while orchestrating profound transformations.
Within the labyrinthine realm of Wall Street, Steve Cohen’s alleged aggressive conduct finds its place among the standard behaviors of traders. A penchant for bullying is often regarded as a twisted perk of success—an unspoken assertion that stems from the belief, “I have amassed immense wealth, and I possess the secrets of the universe. Politeness is inconsequential in my pursuit.”
However, this aggressive demeanor can also be traced back to the relentless battering traders endure in their daily encounters with the unpredictable markets. Even the most skilled traders find themselves on the losing end approximately 45% of the time, succumbing to the ruthless whims of indifferent numerical forces. The accumulation of these defeats takes a toll, eroding one’s spirit. When unable to conquer the markets, some find solace in overpowering those closest to them.
Reflecting on my own Wall Street years, I recall moments when, after being proven wrong, I lashed out at anyone unfortunate enough to cross my path. It became a means to reestablish my credibility and regain a sense of self-worth—an ego reset of sorts.
While masters of the markets may not actively seek fame, some are undeniably drawn to its trappings: coveted tables at esteemed restaurants, exclusive access beyond velvet ropes, and memberships to the most elite clubs. To acquire these privileges, they simply buy them. Within Wall Street’s ecosystem, everything has a price, and its denizens revel in demonstrating this fact. It serves to reaffirm their worldview, where money reigns supreme.
One of my early experiences involved a business dinner with a remarkably wealthy client—a man who had amassed hundreds of millions over his illustrious career. Insisting on dining at the then-newly opened Nobu, an establishment notorious for its exclusivity, he brushed off the salesmen’s warning that securing a reservation would be impossible. With a laugh, he declared, “Everything is possible if you just know how much to pay.”
As we approached the restaurant’s entrance, we were greeted by the customary signs of a celebrity invasion—luxurious black limos and imposing SUVs manned by burly Russian drivers. A throng of eager diners, patiently waiting for hours to secure a table, snaked out the door.
Undeterred, our client bypassed the crowd, approached the maître d’, and discreetly slipped a wad of cash into his hands. Within moments, we were seated at the best table, encircled by Manhattan’s glitterati. We were the unassuming interlopers, momentarily crashing the exclusive gathering. It was vital to our client that we, along with the waiter, recognized his inconspicuous yet undeniable status. He was somebody—a somebody who shunned the allure of fame. “Look at them,” he gestured toward the surrounding movie stars, “forced to sign scraps of paper handed to them by potentially contagious individuals.”
In a playful manner, he then suggested we order the entire menu—a jest that carried a trace of pride. While we didn’t indulge in his extravagant suggestion, the act itself became a symbol of his past accomplishments. It was an unspoken proclamation: “See me, but don’t scrutinize me too closely. Acknowledge me and my wealth.”
Eventually, every Wall Street trader, every hedge-fund manager, will confront a moment when their reign ends. A streak of luck dissipates, and their once-revered secret recipe