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Early Career Lesson Number 3- Details Matter

October 21, 2016

The fifth exclusive for Dynamic Commodities in my series- becoming a commodities trader

It was March of 1982 when the call came from the second in command in the traffic department, Max Stern. He asked me to come up to his office and talk about a position in the logistical area of the firm. The conversation was brief and the meeting immediate.

Stern was a man of few words who told me I would have to pass a test to be considered for the traffic department. He handed me the exam, a mimeographed single sheet with five questions. The smell of that paper reminded me of elementary school; I always loved the smell of that ink. I was a great test-taker and figured the company wanted to make sure I had some basic mathematical skills, and the exam would be a no-brainer.

Stern told me I had one hour to complete the questions in pencil outside of his office pointing to a desk; I could use a calculator and knock on the door when I finished.

I was nervous but confident as I read over the test which was composed of practical applications from commodity invoicing. One question required the invoicing of a copper concentrates deal, and another dealt with iron ore. There was no assumption that I had any knowledge of these businesses as the questions contained the information for conversions to and from short tons, long tons, and metric tons. I got to work and finished my computations in half the allotted time. I double, and triple checked my answers and with the confidence of a perfect score I knocked on the door of Stern’s office.

Stern looked over my paper; one by one he put check marks indicating that I had provided the correct replies on each. He looked up at me over his spectacles and uttered, in his accent tinged with a hint of German, “you failed.” That was it. I got 100% and failed. There were no other words said, and he waved to the door in a sign for me to leave and go back to the telex room.

After a sleepless night, I returned to Stern’s office the next day and with my tail between my legs asked for some feedback on the exam as I could not understand how I got 100% and failed. “While you answered all of the questions correctly you did not provide adequate backup for your answers. One day we may decide to give you another chance, but there were also two erasures on the paper, good day.” The lesson was clear, details matter.

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Post Series: Origin Of A Commodities Trader

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