The new trading Turtles: heroes in a short sell

A City trader wants to resurrect an experiment of the 80s, training up City novices to become brokers. It worked with Eddie Murphy in Trading Places...

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 05 Nov 2010
If you're a fan of talent competitions, but you're too tone-deaf to take on Simon Cowell's X-Factor miscreants, perhaps you might have better luck with this competition: a City trader is looking for 10 ‘apprentices’ (the Coalition will approve) to take part in an experiment to find out anyone can be turned into a great trader. Mike Baghdady, from Training Traders, will give each of his newly-qualified protégés a £100,000 account to show off their newly-acquired skills and prove to the world that traders don’t necessarily have to come from a blue-chip background. But will it work?

The idea will be familiar to MT readers of a certain age who enjoyed Eddie Murphy in Trading Places. But the scheme is actually modelled on a similar experiment run by legendary commodities broker Richard Dennis, who, in 1983, bet a friend he could turn anyone into a successful trader, no matter what their background. Having placed an ad in the New York Times, he selected 23 people from the 3,000 hopefuls who applied, and put them through a two-week course on 21 ‘infallible’ trading principles. He then let them loose on the markets with $1m each; by the time the experiment came to a close just over four years later, Dennis’s ‘Turtles’ (so called because, apparently, he had been inspired by a trip to a turtle farm) were $175m up on his initial investment. No mean feat for a group that included a security guard and a restaurant manager.

This time around, Baghdady says it won't be quite so simple. For one thing, while experience doesn’t matter, the people he selects will have to have ‘a certain way of thinking’ and be ‘able to follow rules’. For another, he’s updated Dennis’s principles for the 21st century – partly, we’d assume, to take into account new computing systems, but mainly because we’re apparently a bit more risk-averse since the recession. And we’ve learned a lot since the days of Jérôme Kerviel, the French rogue trader who lost almost Société Générale almost €50bn – namely, that no matter how experienced or inexperienced they may be, it’s important to keep an eagle eye on those pesky traders.

MT can’t say whether it’s got the necessary skills to become a trading floor hotshot, but considering one of the original Turtles experiment’s biggest successes, 19-year-old Curtis Faith, made himself a tidy little $31m profit, it’s definitely worth a try...

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