Friday, I had one of those meetings that you come out of which you just can’t get out of your head. Several West Point Cadets came down to the hub of capitalism, dropped by two houses, the exchange and S&P. I was at, but not the host or ranking officer as they would say, at the S&P meeting. A few words, a few questions, a free sandwich, and a good chance not to answer questions on BofA shares or what low trading volume truly meant. So in they marched, in uniform, polite, regimented, and oh so young – 19, 20 maybe 21; they were just a few years older then my kids, yet a world of difference. They asked questions, we gave answers, but when it was all over I went away thinking about things that I knew, but didn’t really think about, and none of them had anything to do with the S&P 500.
Now, for the record, I wasn’t an SDS or YAF member (Students for A Democratic Society or Young American for Freedom from the sixties), neither I nor my immediate family has ever served in the military, and I was quite overjoyed when my draft number was 283. These kids however didn’t have a draft number. They actually worked hard to get where they were, which was a chance to serve. They are bright, young, eager, dedicated and committed – yet they were in West Point, not the halls of Ivey, and while they are guaranteed a job after graduation, it would appear that the reunions for certain graduating years are not as well attended. These kids could go places, be someone, work hard yes but enjoy the good life, and there was the thought that I couldn’t get out of my head. I guess this is one of those situations you know about in the back of your mind, but never think about, but it didn’t take me long to figure it out – they were going places. They were dong exactly what we all wanted to do when we were young – make a difference. But while most of us moved on to what we thought was reality, they already were in reality. They were committing their future, and let’s get real here – potentially their very lives, to serving. They put themselves second on the priority list. I have teenage children (and there is even a rumor that I might have been one at one time), and I see them and their friends, and the difference is amazing. It’s not the difference in preferences, politics, or cloths, but the commitment and focus I saw in that meeting room. From what I could tell, at least some of them are the children of West Point graduates and current or former military members, so maybe they are just following their upbringing, just as my son wants to invest in the market; but their goal is service.
However, what truly stuck me was something three of them said to each other; I was on the side and not part of the conversation. It dealt with a code of honor and regulations, which sometimes come into conflict, and that in conflict honor comes first. You can break the rules and pay the price, but you can not break honor. To me it meant doing the right thing, to them it was a way of life.
So what does this have to do with investing, nothing. But then again, maybe if ‘our’ people had a call to honor maybe there would have been a few less bubbles, a few less Enron’s, a lot less ‘yes, but we can legally do it by…’ and a bit more of the way we wanted it to be when we were young. And since this is suppose to be about advise, I’ll offer some to the military. Forget your ads, incentives, and aid programs, just let these young, naive, inexperienced and honor bound kids go out and do your talking. I don’t know which of the branches uses the slogan ‘be all that you can be’, but these guys sure seem to fit the bill, and in a dozen years they won’t be so young, so naïve, or so inexperienced, but I’ll bet they’ll still be honor bound. I’ve meet quite a number of smart, successful and rich people in my life, but I don’t recall so many gaining my respect so quickly. So my bottom line is that it was my honor to be able to meet all of them, and I can only hope they keep the faith.