Freddie. Early Life Experiences, University Years, Sales and Trading

posted June 26th, 2009 by Janet Graham - Leave a Comment

I asked Freddie to tell me about the experiences in her early life which she felt had the greatest impact on her work life and career. And she said there were a couple of things she felt she wanted to say about her early life. She said the first thing which impacted her was that she was born on the wrong side of the tracks and she thinks this definitely set the stage for her always wanting to achieve and to be successful. The second thing that really affected her was something that happened one day when she was about 13 years old. She doesn’t remember exactly what had taken place but she remembers her mum sitting at the end of her bed shaking her head and Freddie says: “she started to give me one of her big speeches” and she said: “Freddie you know, it’s really a dog eat cat world out there and I’m really worried about you because you’re far too nice and nice people get taken advantage of. I don’t know what we’re going to do but you open yourself up, you help everybody, and you do this and you know out there in the world people are going to take advantage of you.” And Freddie says this conversation impacted her at 13 and it is something that has stayed with her. She says she thinks from that moment forward that conversation set the stage for her decision that she was going to be successful and she was going to prove everybody wrong more or less. She says coming from an environment where she was brought up by her mum, a single woman with four kids, their struggle was for her the line in the sand and she decided to “just be successful no matter what.”

She says in terms of life changing early experiences she would include her entrance to university. She arrived at university late because she did not receive her acceptance until late August and was to start school in September. As a result, there was no room left in the main student residence, so she was placed in a makeshift dorm at the bottom of the residence building. In her words: “because I was kind of the latecomer, if you will, at the only university in the country that accepted me, as you might imagine I was kind of set up to screw up my goal right there and then. So when I sat down in university, I’ll never forget this, I’m looking at my first course agenda and it’s the University of Ottawa and I’m sitting there going “holy shit” I’m in university, I’m in university, I’m going to just completely fail. And even though I was in university, I needed to have a good time and good times almost took over but you know I think that those things are what set me up for future success in life.”

She says in university having almost failed her first year of university she was placed on academic probation and was called into the Dean’s Office and was told that she would not be re-invited to university if she failed her second year. She came back the following year, second year, on probation which meant that she needed to bring her marks up and she says from that point forward, she treated university like a job. She dressed differently and went to university early every morning and if she didn’t have a class she went to the library. She says she was in class or at the library from eight to five every single day and she turned her school marks around. And she says “you know success breeds success” and all of a sudden you are doing well and you simply continue doing well. She says there is an expression she likes and she doesn’t remember where she found it which says “success is a vitamin”. She believes it’s true in your work life and in university, it’s true everywhere, including your love life. And in her last year in university, Freddie became a counsellor which made her responsible for two floors of students, a big responsibility. She had come full circle.

In addition to being a counsellor, she decided to organize a fund raiser and she says the only reason she mentions it is that it was to be a big fund raiser. The plan was to have a really big fashion show to raise a lot of money. They went to all the stores in Ottawa to get clothing for free, however, they also required significant donations. They found a choreographer to stage the show and they had everything sorted out and in the end they couldn’t find anyone that could really raise money and Freddie ended up carrying that burden almost completely by herself. She says she regrets to this day that the project fell apart. She had to pull the plug on it a few weeks before they were due to have the show and it completely devastated her in terms of letting people down that had helped her organize it and she felt it was a failure. She thinks facing that early failure, from a business perspective really set the stage for her in terms of her later success.

I asked Freddie to tell me about her career, the milestones and road blocks that stand out when she looks back and what she learned from them. She says she finished university in 1982 in the middle of a recession and there were simply no jobs available. However, Freddie managed to get a job working as a photocopier salesperson. In fact, she says, she got three job offers because she approached her job search and the interview process the same way she approached everything else at university, in a very organized, business like and professional way. She signed up to interview with every single company that came on campus to recruit and she had 65 interviews. She says she became so good at interviewing that she started offering coaching to students on how to interview for companies. In the end, she got three job offers when most people didn’t get any. She says she wasn’t even a full B.Comm graduate, she was a B.Admin which was only a three year program and so she was very happy with her outcome. She had success.

She says for her the sales job was a way of prolonging her education and rather than getting an MBA she went and got on the job training. She says although it might surprise people today, she was very shy and she felt she really didn’t know how to sell judging by her lack of success with the fashion show, so she decided she had to learn how to sell.

She says this job is what ended up getting her the job at a securities firm. She was playing squash with a friend of hers in Montreal, getting reintegrated into life there after having gone to university in Ottawa. This friend was a very successful broker and she said to Freddie: “you know, you’d be great in our business, in fact, you’d be great in the institutional business. Why don’t you go and speak to “my good friend”, I’m sure he’d love you blah blah blah.” And Freddie says: “you know, it was one of those things where they only hired MBA’s and I didn’t have an MBA and so on. So anyway I got the job there and proceeded to stay almost 12 years and had several positions.”

In terms of big milestones, she says selling photocopiers was a huge one, going out and knocking on doors, from door to door, where basically she was not allowed in the office from nine to four. She would come into the office at eight in the morning, get herself organized and leave. Each day she picked a street and would go knocking on doors selling photocopiers. She says: “I mean, even though I wasn’t that highly educated I couldn’t believe I’d need an education to do that. I felt like a Fuller Brush salesperson and often you’d go into a small accountant’s office in Longueuil, Quebec, and you would have just followed the plastic plant salesperson. You know what I mean? Like it was just… you could get thrown out of offices. It was very, very difficult. On top of that you were a commissioned sales person and every month you’d start in the red with your draw. So my draw was $1,500 a month, so I would start each month $1,500 in the red. If I sold photocopiers it went to zero and then into positive territory but if you carried your red going forward, it was really hard to go into the office. Anyway, so I did that and I would say that was definitely a very formative experience for me.”

A positive for Freddie was that her employer opened stores because they decided to go into the computer business and she had already figured out that she was very good at training people. They had electronic typewriters to sell and no one could sell them. At one point, each person had to sell so many photocopiers and so many electronic typewriters in order to get their bonus and so Freddie figured out a quick way to train sales people so that they could sell the typewriters. And she figured out a way they could package a photocopier with an electronic typewriter, so they could basically say to a client: “we have a promotion on this month, if you buy this photocopier, a typewriter comes with it, let me show you how it works”. And because she had shown the other sales people how to sell the typewriters using this demonstration, all of a sudden all of the sales people were making their quotas on the typewriters. So when they opened the stores Freddie volunteered to go and work in the stores and start selling computers which she thought would be really neat.

Unfortunately, it proved to be a disaster for the photocopier company and it was a bad career move for Freddie but she says the good news was that she ended up getting the job at the securities firm which she says was just so so so much fun.

She started with the firm in their Montreal office in the institutional money market. She remembers walking into work and someone saying to her, here are your clients and she said: “what do you mean, you’re just giving me clients, I don’t have to find my own clients?” And they said, no, no, here are your clients. And she says: “Oh, it was great!!” And they told her, this client has never talked to us, don’t worry about it. And she thought to herself: “give me three months and I will have them trading with our firm”. She would just call each client thinking it was so much fun!!! And she says, the funny thing about money markets is that the money markets close at noon and no one did anything during the afternoon. And she found herself wondering what she was going to do; she thought “oh my G-d how could I be in a business where I am going to be doing nothing from noon to five.” So she decided to start trading in the afternoon for the next day and she would call the traders and ask whether it was okay and then she would look at her calendar and say to her colleagues: “guys, you don’t know how easy you have it, like give me any of your clients that you can’t get through to, I’ll call them”. And she admits, acknowledging her competitive side, she said to them: “I’m going to eat your lunch, like all of you within a year.” As a consequence, she was moved to the Toronto office because “that was probably not a good thing to say to my colleagues in Montreal.” When she moved to Toronto she says it was like, “oh my G-d, the little French Canadian from the wrong side of the tracks, with a partial kind of degree, in Toronto on a trading floor in one of the big towers, like Holy Moly, right.”

And she relates one of her “first funny little experiences” in the Toronto office, which she says also proved to be a milestone. She says, if she ever had any hang ups about her education, she lost them on the spot as a result of a conversation with a new colleague in the Toronto office. This fellow introduced himself and asked her where she had gone to school. And she told him Ottawa University and he asked whether she meant Carlton University. And she told him, no, no it’s Ottawa University. And he said, he didn’t know there were two universities in Ottawa. So Freddie asked him where he had gone to school and he said Wharton. And she asked him what he had studied there and he said he did his MBA. And she said: “I’ve never heard of it” and walked away from him. A woman, who has since become her best friend, overheard the exchange pulled Freddie aside and asked whether she had been kidding. “You were kidding, right?” And Freddie told her, no. And the woman says: “You haven’t heard of Wharton.” And Freddie told her: “No, I’ve never heard of it. I’m from Montreal for G-d’s sake.” So this woman took on the training of Freddie and for the fun of it going forward she always called it Freddie’s MBA training program. She took Freddie into her care and taught her what she thought she needed to learn and told her what she thought she needed to know.

What Strikes Me?

The importance of drawing a line in the sand

Success is a vitamin

In the end, it doesn’t matter where you went to school; it’s the lessons you learned while you were in attendance

In fact, it would appear there is more than one way to obtain an “MBA”

Success breeds success

What Strikes You?

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