John Angelo, the 74-year-old New Yorker who led $25 billion investment firm Angelo Gordon & Co., died Friday January 1 after a struggle with cancer.
He cofounded Angelo Gordon and led the firm for 27 years, and also served on the board of directors at auction house Sotheby’s.
Angelo returned to his alma mater, St. Lawrence University in New York, 10 months ago to give the 2015 commencement speech. There, he explained to graduates what he learned in his decades on Wall Street.
Doing what you love is part of it, he explained. But, a big part of doing what you love is making sure you’re good enough at something that you love to do it. He said:
The truth is we tend to enjoy what we are good at. I promise you, that each of you has a skill or talent that is unique, that nobody else has. Pursue what you are good at; discover what you do better than anyone else. And if you do that, you will discover what you love. And once you dig in to the thing you love and are good at, the future will come more easily and obstacles will fall away.
Do not be afraid to fail. If you don’t fail you haven’t taken chances. But when you do fail learn from it. And if you fall at least fall forward closer to your goal.
Never give up on yourselves, never. Life can bring difficult times, but remember that coming from St. Lawrence is a crucial asset for you. Stay in touch with your friends; seek each other out as the years roll on and help each other. Remember that in this country the sky is the limit.
Angelo, over the first few years of his career working on the bond floor of the New York Stock Exchange, figured out a few things about himself that he says schools can’t teach. He said:
1. I learned the language of finance
2. I learned to speak quickly
3. I could make mathematical decisions quickly
4. I learned that I could multi task
These are not things that are taught to you in college or business School. But these are the skill set of a trader in the last half of the 20th century. I never knew I had these skills.
Last but not least, Angelo had one great piece of wisdom that applies to both newly-minted grads and seasoned vets: “the harder you work the luckier you get.”