Buy-side traders seem to be in panic mode -- not about the market or their coinciding performance necessarily, but about their careers. In a market like this it's hard to know what funds or firms will be around tomorrow, let alone a year from now. Even the top traders with the best performance and strongest reputations working for the most venerable firms are anxious about their futures. After all, no one is sure where this crisis will end, when the market will bottom out, or which funds and firms will emerge on the other side.
When I talk to traders the focus no longer is on trading and technology trends; every one-on-one conversation I've had in the past six months has been on the profession of trading and what traders' options may be at this point in their careers. Do they stay where they are and ride out the rough times? Do they switch asset classes? Do they start their own boutique firms? Or do they get out of trading altogether?
We set out to craft this issue's cover story, "Anatomy of a Buy-Side Trader", with this uncertainty in mind. Everyone is searching to identify those qualities that give one trader an edge over another -- what makes one trader great and another just good?
The results, as we initially suspected, are subjective, but they are telling nonetheless. During Executive Editor Cristina McEachern's interviews, 10 traits seemed to bubble to the top as most critical. The reflections shared by the buy-side traders themselves -- about what they have been doing for years, where it has taken them and what qualities have helped them get there -- are well worth reading. Even more interesting, perhaps, is how they view themselves today: what keeps them motivated amid the pressures created by such a volatile market.
One quality in particular, however, was noticeably absent from most discussions: leadership. Perhaps this is because we interviewed head traders/trading leaders who instinctively have demonstrated leadership throughout their careers. Still, it is evident that strong trading leaders with the ability to communicate in times like these make their desks that much stronger and focused despite all the noise and personal and professional distractions in today's business environment. More important, the people who emerge as leaders in tough times are the ones who will continue to be in high demand well after the dust settles. They will be the traders who not only survive but thrive.