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Vita Sua in a Bygone Mobile

Part 12 in a series: Hopes raised. Hopes dashed. Hope springs eternal. A bunch of brokers plot their escape from a despotic boss.

Previous installments: 1, 2 , 3 , 4567, 8, 9, 10 and 11.

By A.D.
Mobile Bay Times 
We were handicapped by the fact that we knew very little of industry customs.

XX made it his business to see to it that we did not know the usual arrangements between Wall Street firms and their account executives. He continually told us how lucky we were to be working for such a generous employer.

But I had written a
letter to Forbes
magazine, inquiring
as to the normal
compensation paid
account executives
by different firms.
As luck would have
it, the letter --
with my name
below it -- was
printed in the
Letters to the
Editor column.
My heart leaped
up when I saw it,
because XX also subscribed to the magazine. However, no doubt he did not see it for I heard nothing from him about it.

The answer was that the larger firms, with big advertising and research outlays, generally paid about 33 percent of commissions generated and the smaller ones, with less overhead, 37 percent or more, some as much as 40 percent.

That was more than a little food for thought. Based on a 37 percent payout, I had been considerably underpaid for years. BH, too, of course, had been underpaid. The new men weren't that much affected since they had been with the firm for a brief time.

One spring day we had a serious session late in the afternoon.

The bear market was well under way and business was tough, so I guess this made everybody a little less happy with his current circumstances.

Our little cabal agreed that we would try to make contact with other brokerage firms and inquire if they had an interest in acquiring a ready-made office in Mobile.

We all agreed to go along with the plan. I really didn't expect anything would come of it, but just the opportunity to look into a move served as an outlet for some of our indignation.

As the spring progressed, so did our conspiracy.

We'd meet after the close of the market almost every day. Usually the meetings were conducted in the office, it being safe to do so, inasmuch as XX had taken off for the 'A' Club. We did stay out of earshot of Mrs. K, our back office manager and wire operator. We didn't worry about the board markers eavesdropping for we reasoned, they couldn't care less.

As for Mrs. K, she should have suspected that something was afoot with the five of us gathering for an hour or so almost every afternoon. If so, she didn't remark on it to us and I assume to XX either. We did not know where her allegiance lay but, since we all were pleased with her work, intended to invite her to join us when and if we made the move. We did not, however, want to take the chance of informing her of our plans for fear she might leak the news to XX.

Occasionally,
we'd move our
deliberations to
the Battle House,
where we'd
discuss our plans
over a beer or
two.

There were
afternoons
when XX
came back
unexpectedly
from the 'A'
Club. We'd be
gathered in a
knot and he should have reasoned that something was afoot. If he did, he gave no evidence of it.

It was decided that BH was to be our contact man. We assumed that our best chance of making a successful
contact would be with a firm which already had one or more offices in the area, as it would be quite costly for a company to maintain an office stuck off a thousand miles or so from any other location.

We wanted to go to a fairly large firm. Merrill Lynch was
eliminated at the outset since they had an office in Mobile and while they might have welcomed the addition to their staff, such a move would have posed problems since the five of us served many accounts who also did business with various account executives at this firm.

We narrowed our choices to Bache, Dupont and Hutton in that order.

Harold Bache, the managing partner of Bache, wrote BH in answer to his letter, thanking us for our interest but saying that his firm was not planning to add any offices at the time.

Ironically, twelve years later, Bache was to take over the Mobile office of SR when the latter firm got in financial trouble. They could have come in the city a good deal more cheaply had Harold been less cautious back in the spring of '62.

We thought we had struck pay dirt when we contacted DuPont. A Mr. RO called BH and said that his firm was definitely interested and that he would be back in touch.

Our daily meetings now took on an aura of added excitement. What had been something of a pipe dream now seemed to have a chance of coming to fruition.

Now I had also made Charlie S. privy to our secret and asked his assistance in contacting firms. Charlie was making a trip to New York about this time and, since he had many friends in the brokerage business, I reasoned that he would make a good front man for us. As it turned out, he played no part in the plot, although he was to suffer a disgraceful and uncalled for grilling by one of the SR partners who suspected that he had been a conspirator. But this came later.

Our hopes were dashed a week or so after BH had first heard from Mr. RO. He called back and said that the firm had decided that it was not interested at this time.

We were to learn later that DuPont almost certainly "blew the whistle" on us, informing SR of our plans.

Strangely, they did nothing about it, I suppose because they were told by the DuPont people that they had turned us down. The SR partners must have assumed that ours was a "one shot" effort.

At this point, I was just about ready to give up the conspiracy. We had not had any success, but it had been an opportunity to blow off steam and I was satisfied to go back to my duties and make the best of it.

But we still had one more avenue to explore and suddenly we got a big break.

(Chapter XIII: Relative success, a Southern gentleman and New Orleans society enter our story.)