To the Vice-Chairman’s thoughtful statement that I seemed intelligent, I could only beam and say, “thank you, sir!”
I like to think I’m intelligent although I can say from experience that in business, seeming intelligent is just as good as being intelligent. But then I was twenty-seven and desperately wanted to be taken seriously by the “adult” world. So for a senior official of a Wall Street corporation to compliment me on my brain power was about as cool a thing as I could ever hope to hear about myself. My only questions were how much and when do I start?
“Actually, son,” the Vice-Chairman said, “you seem like a highly intelligent young man.”
Again, what else could I say but, “thank you, sir!” How many secretaries would I have? Two? Three?
Clearly Mr. Big felt he wasn’t getting through to me. “Son, I mean that you seem like an unusually intelligent young man.”
“Son, unusually intelligent men don’t make good stockbrokers.”
I felt lower than a whale’s belly. What? My unusual intelligence was a hindrance? He could see the surprise on my face.
“Let me tell you this, son. There is something wrong with every investment and unusually intelligent people like you will figure it out and that won’t be helpful to you or the firm.”
He was right. Although I was hired as a stockbroker by Dewey, Cheatam, and Howe, I did figure out what was wrong with most investments and I could not in good conscience sell that snake oil to my clients. Fortunately, muni bonds paid a nice commission and I was able to make a living selling quality municipal bonds and blue chip stocks. But the products which paid the most commissions were trash and I would pinpoint their flaws right away.
So I didn’t bring a good return for the money the firm had invested to train me and the reason? I was too damn intelligent. Who would have thought that would be a bad thing? But it can be and it has subsequently caused difficulties for me in my corporate life and job hunting.