ABA Banking Journal - April 2007 - (Page 62)
briefing ABA NCCB RECAP THE GRACE OF GOD continued from page 8 found out about Gardner’s $1,200-plus in outstanding tickets. He was arrested and, because of the timing of the arrest, kept in a state prison for more than a week awaiting a court date. Gardner told listeners that he found himself in a cell with a rapist, a murderer, and other rough customers. He wasn’t about to admit—from sheer need to survive—that he was being held for parking tickets. So when he was asked why he was in the “pen,” he answered, “Attempted murder! And I want to get out, so I can try again!” His “ex” left him, taking their baby son, Chris Jr., and putting most of his clothing in storage. (The key she took with her, by the way.) Gardner took a room in a boarding house, working at what he could find. Then, one night, the “ex” showed up, dropped off the baby, and walked out of their lives. This put Gardner and his son on the street, as the rooming house permitted no children. What followed was a struggle, with much of Gardner’s meager earnings going to pay for child care while he worked. Housing was transit bathrooms in bad weather, parks when weather permitted. Later they had the opportunity to spend nights in a charitable “homeless hotel,” which permitted people seeking jobs or working to stay there. Something that sustained Gardner through his period was a childhood vow to always be there for his own children. His stepfather had repeatedly told him, as a five-year-old, that he wasn’t Gardner’s father. And to underscore things, he’d periodically remind Gardner that, “You ain’t got no daddy.” Up out of the gutter Before and during his homelessness, breaking into brokerage wasn’t easy. Gardner, who never showed any bitterness in his speech, declined to blame his difficulty on racism. “It was not racism,” he insisted. “It was ‘placism’.” He hadn’t been to college. He had no political connections. And he had no money of his own to invest. From a potential employer’s viewpoint, he said, it was natural to ask, “Who’d invest with me?” 62 APRIL 2007/ABA BANKING JOURNAL But in time, Gardner got his shot, in a front-end job in a firm where his role was working the phone, making 200 calls a day. Anyone who “bit” was passed on to a broker, who made the commissions. Gardner made $1,000 a month, the stipend granted to the firm’s interns. Gardner knew his way up was a broker’s license, and he studied for the exams every spare minute. A fellow black man whom he called “Bob,” who never advanced, eventually turned to accusing his firm of racism, but Gardner didn’t see things that way. Whenever his energy flagged, “I’d think about Bob and I’d wake right up.” He passed his licensing exam in 1981. Things were so tight that Gardner had two suits to wear to work, “one blue, one gray.” He told bankers that fellow employees joked that he was reenacting the Civil War. A frequent visitor to one of Gardner’s coworkers turned out to be a brokerage executive from another firm visiting his girlfriend, and he noticed how hard Gardner worked. It impressed him enough to give Gardner a shot at a real brokerage job. This was with Bear Stearns & Co., in 1983. In time he developed accounts that included some oil men. One frequent customer used to call regularly, and, not realizing that Gardner was black, would regale him with “every nigger joke, every spic joke, every Jew joke” in his repertoire. In time, the customer came to San Francisco, where Gardner was based, and wanted to visit his broker. Gardner had put off past visits with one excuse or another, and had run out of alibis. So that day the oil man learned with a shock who he’d been talking to. He switched to “knock, knock” jokes after that. Rich & Co., based in Chicago. Today he not only heads the firm, but is a motivational speaker and noted philanthropist— including supporting the church whose “homeless hotel” helped him. But perhaps more rewarding was something his son told an interviewer after the book came out, when asked what he remembered of their time on the streets: “The only thing I remember is that every time I looked up, my father was there.” – Steve Cocheo, executive editor INVESTORS continued from page 16 Eyes on personal goals Gardner acknowledged that some people ask him why he didn’t object to the jokes. He reflected that, after all the time he and his son had been homeless, “It was not time to sing, ‘We Shall Overcome.’ It was time to get paid.” Before long, Gardner became a top earner at Bear Stearns, and, in 1987, he founded the brokerage firm of Gardner want you to do this and that, but not dilute them.” You may face some loss of control, the CEO added, but the upside is that the company now has liquid currency for acquisitions—cash or stock. “It’s been very important for our structure and growth,” said Ross. What about the cost of Sarbanes-Oxley compliance for these publicly traded banks? Two of the three bankers addressed that issue briefly. Ross basically said, “we can handle it, but it’s costly.” Awerkamp said the transition into SOX had not been that difficult for Mercantile Bancorp. “We’re used to regulations,” he noted. Ross added, however, that as a public company in this day and age you have more people than ever watching you, among them the SEC, the exchange you’re traded on, analysts, investor groups, plus your accountant. In response to questions from the audience, the banker panelists indicated that they did not have an investor relations staffer. They fill that role. Another questioner asked if the banks issued quarterly guidance. None did. Ross said that some analysts have told him not to do it. The analyst on the panel, James Schutz of Sterne, Agee and Leach, Birmingham, Ala., acknowledged that most banks don’t issue quarterly guidance, but a few do. “It does give investors confidence that you know what’s going on,” he said. For more observations and suggestions from Schutz, see the sidebar, “A sell-side analyst weighs in,” on page 16. — Bill Streeter, editor-in-chief www.ababj.com/subscribe.html
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