When I was fourteen years old, I flew from Montreal to Vancouver, my home town, to stay with relatives for the summer. For reasons I cannot now fathom, one day, while walking downtown, I entered the Vancouver Stock Exchange, but just the front lobby. The building was tall, stark and impressive and I felt its worldly power. To borrow a little of that power for myself, I took a book from a bookshelf--I think they were free ... I hope they were free--an introduction to the stock market and to the financial world in general. I was fascinated and I read at least some of it on the plane flying back home.
I had that book for years. I would return to it from time to time whenever I wanted to explore the fantastical world of stocks and bonds and dream of the obscene amounts of money a person could make if they knew what they were doing. I considered buying penny stocks. For a while, without investing anything, I tracked a few listings in the stock market reports in the newspaper as if I had, just to see how I might have done. Surprisingly, I'd have done alright. But I left it there.
In high school, I was drawn into the arts world, not the financial world, playing in a band and flirting with the lights of the stage. With my math marks in the lower digits, it was just as well. I wasn't suited to anything as complex as investment and to all the ways one could hedge bets, trade high, and outsmart the market. I bought Canada Savings Bonds with my paper route money and let them gather dust in a safety deposit box until they matured and paid out their tiny dividends, long after I'd forgotten I even had them.
All this came rushing back to me as I spoke with Howard Fischer for this week's episode of The Mystic Cave. Howard was not like me. He felt the allure of the investment world, as I had, but he dove right in, fearless, and never looked back. For over twenty years he worked the markets of Wall Street, reaching his personal financial goals ... until the crash of 2008. For five years afterward he tried to rebuild his investment company. When it appeared that was not going to happen, he grew philosophical. Okay, if that was yesterday, what then is tomorrow?
He enrolled in a leadership program at Harvard University and began preparing himself for a personal and professional rebirth. He knew how to make money in the investment world, but what sort of legacy could he leave that would benefit not just himself and his business partners, but the planet and its inhabitants? How could he make a difference in the real world?
As Howard's financial skills and social conscience came together, he created Gratitude Railroad, an impact investment firm that seeks out investment opportunities among companies dedicated to solving environmental and social problems. Often, these are fringe start-ups, hardly noticed by conventional bankers and financiers. They can be risky, so sometimes they need to be leveraged by more mainstream investments. But Gratitude Railroad is discovering an entirely new way of supporting environmental and social change. It's like Realism meets Idealism, only to discover the two have many things in common.
As I spoke with Howard, and remembered my early curiosity in the financial world, I felt it was wise that I never went there myself. I would not have survived in that world, let alone thrived. But the possibilities! That's what I recall. What you could do, if you were shrewd enough and motivated enough and, given the social ills of our time, committed enough to make a difference!
Howard is all of these things. He's the financial guy I would have wanted to become myself. That makes him my hero. But we each have our own work to do. Perhaps mine is simply to introduce you to Howard and to stimulate your imagination with how you might make your own contribution to our hurting world. Because we all have our dreams to dream, our gifts to give, and our unique investments to make in a more hopeful future.
To hear our conversation, just press the Play button below: