Lee Munson used to be one of the goes guys at the bar shouting obnoxiously at the bartender and buying shots for all of his friends. He was so much that guy that 10 years ago The Observer wrote a piece about him, calling him a “swaggering relic of the (1990s) boom.”“The New York experience is everything I ever dreamed of,” he said at the time. “Just being able to be like a rock star, have the financial power to bully–not people–but bully the city around and make the city meld into what I wanted the city to be.”
In the article he called people whores, he dropped the F-word about a million times, and talked about flashing his money as much as possible.
But that was then.
Now he lives in New Mexico (of all places), has written a book called “Rigged Money”, and runs his own asset management firm, Portfolio LLC. That doesn’t mean he’s not interested in what’s going on in New York, though. He travels there every six to eight weeks to do media appearances and meet with contacts. He says he has a message for Wall Street:
“There’s a a pervasive culture of machismo on Wall Street, but you have to grow up,” Munson told Business Insider. “When you see people in their 40s and 50s acting like I did when I was 25 you’ve got to think of the damage it’s doing to the industry…I don’t wonder why we had a financial crisis. “
See, to Munson, New York is a beast, and it brings out an even bigger beast in money-hungry Wall Streeters. The job makes it easy for industry folk to keep their eyes on the prize and become detached from the city, from community. It’s easy, even natural, for that prize to become all consuming. Surrounded by others with their same interests, intense competition ensues.
“When you work on Wall Street you give yourself up to the only measure of your life being how much money you make.”
And when you make that money you feel special, and “as soon as you feel special, something bad is about to happen,” Munson continued. In New Mexico, he’s not special. No one cares what he does, and he likes it that way
It’s not that Munson thinks New York is going anywhere or that Wall Street is going to adopt its own ethics policy just to turn into model citizens. Checking reckless behaviour is about self-preservation, pure and simple.
“You can either slow Wall Street down or watch them crash,” said Munson. “There are a lot of apologists on Wall Street that say, these traders are too clever so they’ll get around regulation. That’s so cynical… Wall Street hasn’t changed in 400 years, we should just to be mindful of who we are and basic concepts of what self interested behaviour is — we need to think about not sinking the ship.”
This from the guy who at 25 said some of his first thoughts of the day were, “I’m a badass. I’m like a hot producer, I’m the hot money man.”
If a young Wall Streeter sat with Munson now, he’d ask them point blank: Are you at the bar with that crowd “a**-holes”? If so, go to a museum for no reason (not a benefit), make friends who make less money than you and do other things, get married, consider laying off the alcohol, maybe go to church once in a while.
Or maybe just get out of town.