My First Trade

I clicked the speed dial on the office line.

A voice said "Stock desk."

I was very nervous.  Despite earning my PhD at 27, advising high-level government officials, testifying before government committees, and frequent public speaking to large groups, this was a bit different.  I was actually spending money — a lot of it!

Under firm instructions.  I said, "Buy two grand Beam at a quarter."

There was a brief pause, since the guy on the other end was hearing a new voice for the first time.  After a beat he repeated "two grand Beam at a quarter."

A few minutes later the phone rang.  I answered and heard the report, "Filled at a quarter."

That was it.  A few words in a few seconds.  And that is how I bought almost a quarter of a million dollars worth of stock on my first trade.  I did it without knowing the guy on the other end of the line, and he did not know me.

I was a little nervous about all of this, but it was part of the initiation.  Everyone in the office had to be able to make stock trades to adjust our option positions.  Even the new guy might have to take action.  We had a general schedule of position adjustments and some standing orders.  The stock desk knew our line, and soon learned my voice.  There were no formal introductions.

I remember, in my first few weeks, feeling that it was like piloting a jet plane.  When everyone else was gone, and I was alone in the office, sitting in front of the screen, I was the (inexperienced) pilot.  What if I had to do something?

After some time, that changed.  We were all expected to learn, and to learn quickly.


The translation of the call?  "Beam" was the shorthand for IBM.  Everyone knew this.  Most of the stocks had shorthand names.  The market in IBM (we always thought of markets, not prices) was 119 3/8 – 1/2.  That meant that people were bidding 119 3/8 and the stock was offered at 119 1/2.  If you wanted to buy "two grand Beam at a quarter" this meant that you were 119 1/4 bid for 2000 shares.  You were expected to know the "handle" and no one ever actually said it.  If you did, you were a real rookie!

If the boss called in and asked where Beam was trading, the correct answer was something like "119 3/8 – 1/2, 15 by 20" which meant 1500 shares bid and 2000 offered.  Pros wanted to know the market, not just the last trade.  You had to learn how to give a report.

There were never any mistakes on stock trades.  Never.  Everyone was a professional, sharing a shorthand language that saved time.  Every day the filled trades squared with what we expected, hundreds and hundreds of times.

I don't recommend trying this with your broker at (name deleted).


A year or so after this first order, and after many other exchanges that followed, my group was out for a drink on a Friday night.  I thought I heard a familiar voice, and he thought the same.  That was how I finally met the clerk on our stock desk.


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One comment

  • Muckdog March 22, 2011  

    I remember dating some girls who were wide in the beam – and I’m not talking about their computers.
    Thanks for sharing your story!