I have been around long enough to remember when my alma mater banned the U.S. military from recruiting on campus, in protest against the Vietnam War.
Public reaction like this eventually led to an agonizing but ultimately re-energizing transformation for our armed forces: we are now united by concern for the members of our armed forces, military service is held in high-esteem, and ROTC programs have returned to college campuses. Fast forward a generation, and the protest has shifted to the financial industry.
Wall Street firms, once treated as a guaranteed ticket to success, are beginning to face the same level of animus at several elite college campuses.
After 27 years in the investment profession, of course I’m concerned by this change in public perception. However, when my college-aged children talk to me about a career in finance, I'm still going to give them a “thumbs up.” I can sum up the basis for my blessing in two words: stewardship and community. While these may sound like values espoused by members of the Occupy Wall Street movement, these concepts have everything to do with the practice of finance.
I believe that the next generation of leaders in finance will be defined not by the amount of money they can amass, but by the stewardship they exercise as fiduciaries and the responsibility they demonstrate to their communities.
We are overdue for this change.
The current generation has ridden a fortunate 30-year tailwind that carried financial capitalism to unsustainable levels. The industry has overwhelmed the profession and finance has become an end, rather than a facilitator, of economic activity. There is no question that Wall Street has always attracted people motivated too much by greed and egotism, and in recent years we’ve seen the worst of them. I'm glad that the bright sunlight Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once described as the best disinfectant is now being trained on the finance industry's blemishes. Yet, I am dismayed to see many of today's leaders in finance stuck in a state of outright denial. A 30-year tailwind makes "waiting it out" a tempting strategy, but it’s unworkable and unrealistic.