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We Are Family- My Indoctrination in the World of Commodities

October 14, 2016

This is the second exclusive for Dynamic Commodities in my series of becoming a commodities trader

During my last year of high school and college years, I continued to work at Philipp Brothers during the summers and on all vacations. The money was great, but the education was even better. I was not the only student working at the company in those days; in fact, there were about a dozen of us spread out in the telex room, mailroom, and other service departments in the New York office. We all had one thing in common; we all had a connection that got us in the door.

Phillip Brothers did not hire all of those innocent kids as charity; there was a purpose. The company dated back to 1901 when Oscar and Julius Philipp, two German Jews, founded the company in Hamburg, Germany. The first office in the United States opened in New York City in 1915. In 1960, the company merged with Minerals and Chemicals Corporation of America (MCAA) and became publicly traded and in 1967 MCAA merged with Engelhard Minerals and Chemicals (EMC). While the firm became an American company, it never lost its roots.

Almost all of the employees had a connection to Europe, and many were survivors of the Holocaust. While my connection, Bert Fontaine, was Roman Catholic he was Dutch, and during the war, he suffered under German occupation. The majority of the employees at the company were Jewish. Philipp Brothers did not recruit from colleges or business schools; they trained their staff who came to the firm as referrals through existing employees. I soon found out that I was a lehrling during my school days, the German term for apprentice or trainee.

As a lehrling, I was in good company. In 1954, twenty-two years before I first stepped into Phillip Brother’s office, Marc Rich was a lehrling at the firm. Rich went on to be the most famous and influential commodities trader in the world by the late 1970s. The President of the company at that time, David Tendler, also started his career as a lehrling as did many of the senior traders. It was a title I wore with pride.

For the lehrlings, the indoctrination process into the culture of the firm began young, often in the late teens making Philipp Brothers more than a company; it was a family.

Post Series: Origin Of A Commodities Trader

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