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Apr 20, 2022

Participation Trophies

Stop the madness! No more participation trophies for playing a youth sport. No more extra credit for class participation. No more fluffy majors like communications or sociology (worthy minors, however, in this writer's opinion). No more courses such as Tree Climbing at Cornell University, Game of Thrones at the University of Virginia or Arguing with Judge Judy at UC Berkeley.

Thankfully, most young people have grown up unaffected. However, a measurable percentage turned out “soft” and are ill-prepared to compete in America’s highly competitive marketplace. As an example, hundreds of promising young professionals are now leaving Wall Street to join the tech industry because the typical work week is 10-15 hours less, and they allow employees to work from home. To top it off, most are convinced they chose the tech company that will IPO in three years. Surely, 9 out of 10 will be disappointed!

I grew up selling the Philadelphia Bulletin at age 12. Yes, an old-fashioned paper route. I increased distribution by knocking on doors. I generated additional revenue by selling papers at the local A&P. On winter snow days, I went door- to- door soliciting neighbors to shovel their driveways. No, my father didn’t own a snowblower. I did it by hand with a shovel from Sears.

I lived at home with my parents and went to college locally. I also paid 100% of my tuition by working nights and weekends. I joined Merrill Lynch upon graduation and commuted from Trenton, New Jersey to Manhattan - four hours round trip, every day As a financial advisor in the 1980s, I made my living entirely by commissions (no recurring fees back in the day). I wasn’t a “natural” early on. Rather, I was a grinder. Fourteen hours a day, and relentless cold calling was the down payment to my survival and eventual success.

Years later as a new manager, I worked for Guy Williams, Merrill Lynch’s district director for Southern California. Truly an honorable man. He would say to me, “Paul, I’m going to give you the courtesy of my candor.” When my work wasn’t EXCELLENT, he told me so. He didn’t mince words. Guy chose honesty over nice! Likewise, when I performed at the top of my game, Guy was the first to complement or congratulate me. Bottom line, candor is a courtesy, and it made me a better manager. Frankly, it also made me a better man.

I’ve been a hiring manager for 25 years, and have seen a shrinking percentage of toughness and grit in entry level candidates. I’m worried for this generation of aspiring business professionals. They deserve better from us. Admittedly, we can’t unwind the coddling of the past. But we can help them build the requisite mental and emotional toughness to succeed in the future. The best way I know how is the power of example. I’m doing my part by working 5 days a week in the office from 6AM to 6PM. Not bad for an old guy.

Paul Sullivan
Founder and Managing Partner
Wealth Management Independence