Notes from the other side
Retired metal merchant, Anthony Lipmann, illuminates trading for the young entering the world of metals.
Early in my career I was reproached by a colleague in the trade who’d left me a message to call back.
I confess that in those far off days I was rather arrogant and did not feel the need to return a call unless I felt like it. As far as I was concerned, it was up to me as to when that might be. I was working on the theory that if I was hard to get hold of (like metal in a bull market) perhaps it would increase my value?
At the time (I was quite a young LME metal broker) someone from one of the merchant banks (I think it was Warburg’s) used to call for my opinion on the market. The fact that a large merchant bank was calling for my view rather swelled my head, and I imagined I was Henry Kauffmann of Phibro (a well-known pundit of the day who Crucible readers may recall). So, when this analysts’ calls became annoying, I decided to send an invoice. You have never seen anyone call back so fast. He must have called back the moment the bill hit his desk, pleading he’d not been authorised to spend actual real money on information. I relented, and at least he never called again.
On the other hand, when I failed to return my friend’s call it was a different matter. His admonishment was much more serious – and deservedly so. He taught me to realise that by not replying I had put myself outside the codes of the trade. He got it into my head that ‘the call-back’ was not about politeness – but about the fluidity of the trade.
He was explaining that to not return calls is a wrecking-ball to information flow. I had become a one-man circuit-breaker damming the river. I was a beaver holding back the the stream of necessary contract information, delivery dates, chemistry, price, payment terms – the essence of what we do. To not comply was diverting other people’s useful energy away from trade and into a mire of non-comms.
Decades later I feel grateful.
What I learnt then and would recommend to any young person entering the metals trade, is to not view phone calls, emails, WhatsApp messages, texts, with suspicion. Even if you are – for example – seeking to not be put on the spot as a buyer or seller or uncovered by your mood (sometimes easily deduced from the voice) there are better solutions than not replying.
The young trader needs to discover there is no need to pre-judge the reason for a call. To call back is polite and this attribute can get business too. Rather than assigning devious motives for a call, you will find that some are merely social. If the call is indeed a fishing exercise to sound you out, does this really matter? It’s not difficult to handle.
But when I was young in the trade, I was afraid of being trapped by older hacks. I was partly right to be circumspect for there was one member of our trade who was manipulative to the extent that he held unhealthy close relations with many traders round the market. This became visible to me when I moved from company to company. At each place at which I was employed the same trader appeared to have someone in his pocket.
He once asked me (before the existence of mobiles) for my home telephone number under the guise of friendliness. Today, we would say I was being groomed. I didn’t give mine, but evidence was that others did. This would allow his overbearing coercive pressure into a trader’s private domain, and it divided the loyalty of a trader between the company who employed him and the client. I feel rather lucky to this day that I evaded that bullet.
What you learn the hard way, is that instead of avoidance there are ways to show disinterest in a trade, ideas, or schemes without rudeness: simple phrases like ‘not for us’, or ‘not in the market’.
Meantime, when you have indeed rung back, you might choose the option to counter an enquiry by raising a completely different subject.
The reason for my thoughts on the subject of ‘We’ll call you back!’ today, is the persistence with which the phrase is used like a death knell in the corporate world rung out from anyone from whom you are seeking to receive a service. This morning it was a local tree surgeon in Somerset, with whom I left messages and was assured each time of a call back. For the previous couple of months, it had been my local council’s cemetery department.
I guess if it’s the cemetery people, they’re used to their customers not calling back.
By Anthony Lipmann