By Chris Taylor
NEW YORK, August 9 (Reuters) - They may be Masters of the Universe now - but they weren’t then.
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 peanut slingers.
They say the lessons they carried away from those formative gigs were as important as any gleaned later on Wall Street. Here are their stories.
Name: Brian Rogers
Title: Chairman and chief investment officer, T. Rowe Price
First job: Retail stockboy
”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
Title: Co-founder and president, Metropolitan Capital Advisors; author, “Finerman’s Rules”
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 kindergarten teacher.
“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
Title: President, Drexel Hamilton
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.”