John M. Angelo '63 - Remarks to Graduates

May 17, 2015

The first time I ever saw Judy Hart was in Gunnison Memorial Chapel at a concert at the end of my junior year. It was a concert given by a combination of the Saints and Sinners. Halfway thru that performance, Judy performed a solo a cappella; she sang St. Louis Woman, a blues song that captured her low gutsy alto voice. She blew the roof off the chapel. The audience went nuts – the hair on the back of my neck stood up. It was some performance!

I don’t think I saw her again on campus. Her junior year, my senior year, she went to Paris. I finished my senior year and went into military service.

In 1965 I returned to my home in New York City. As luck would have it Jeff Bijur, a long time friend, introduced Jane Breckenridge, Judy Hart’s roommate at the Kappa Lodge, to Michael Eisner, my oldest and best friend. They began to date and later introduced Judy to me. We began to date and in 1967 we were married. We had 3 children, all here today.

We moved to the Upper West Side. I was working in the securities business, Wall Street – downtown, and every morning I would leave at 8am and return at five. Judy would always have a wonderful home cook meal on the table. It was a family tradition; the five of us would sit down to dinner and talk about our day.

In 1979, when Jesse, our youngest child, was six and off to school full time, Judy said to me I would like to get a job in a sound studio and try to record.

If you analyze success it is not unusual for that person to have had a break, somewhere along the line someone did a good deed, a company did something that was especially helpful.

Keep in mind there is an expression, “the harder you work the luckier you get”.

Judy went to work at a company called Media Sound. It was the hottest recording studio in New York City and there she met and sang with all the great Rock & Roll stars of our day. It was not an accident that 3 years later, she was Emmy nominated and had written a Broadway show.

About that time I congratulated her on her success and asked her why she no longer cooked dinner? And her answer was prophetic, I spend two hours preparing a dinner and my family devours it in 15 minutes. If I write a song and go in and record that song, it goes out to millions of people and it last forever.

My firm Angelo, Gordon manages money in many different disciplines.

In 2015, it’s hard to get the diversity of experience to manage so many different styles.

Years ago we were more fortunate, firms were smaller, had limited capital and employees were routinely moved to fill voids where their natural abilities could be best used. I began my career in 1967 (here comes the break) on the bond floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

40 Foot Room
Brass Rail
Phones around the Side
Free Agency
Never Less than 400 People

What did I learn?

1. I learned the language of finance
2. I learned to speak quickly
3. I could make mathematical decisions quickly
4. I learned that I could multi task

These are not things that are taught to you in college or business School. But these are the skill set of a trader in the last half of the 20th century. I never knew I had these skills.

In July of 1970, I was recruited to go to Bear Stearns to do arbitrage.

My job was to buy 100,000 shares of IBM stock at 49 on the Amsterdam exchange and sell it for 49 and 1/8 on the New York Stock Exchange. Each trade made $12,500.

Because I was dealing with stock exchanges abroad, Judy and I were able to travel to London, Paris, Zurich, Geneva and more. We met young businessmen and politicians, and those people have become lifelong friends. Within a couple of years communications got much faster and the arbitrage business was gone.

However, we remain great friends with so many of the people we met years ago.

A lifelong lesson is you cannot have enough friends -- good friends are a wonderful asset.

1974 was the beginning of option trading. This was the first real derivative available to the public.

As trading began premiums were too high. Professionals, like myself, realized we could do sophisticated strategies that could generate consistent 40% rates of return. Eventually, over time others began to understand our strategies and returns became to decline.

However, I did for the first time combine my speed and my mathematical ability to create significant returns.

But I relearned the most important lesson –bankers and investment managers will work overtime to push money into yesterday’s winners. Eventually the trades will become crowded and profits will fall and in many cases returns disappear.

And that’s true of life as well. It’s called creative destruction. The best example is the smart phone which destroyed the market for the cell phone, point-and-shoot cameras, wrist watch, calculators, voice recorders, and I could keep going. In life you have to keep moving to stay ahead. Don’t stand still.

In the recession of the ’70 companies began to face financial troubles. A new asset class was created called High Yield Bonds. I was an early user of these bonds, but the lesson that I learned was that quality research is the key to investment success as well the driver to help me raise significant assets later in my career.

The ‘70 and ‘80 were a period of new products that helped the client as well as giving the economy liquidity. I enjoyed the process of learning and then teaching others so that I could move on.

In 1988, I wrote the business plan for Angelo, Gordon. Part of that plan was to raise 75 million dollars locked up for 10 years. The most common question I was asked - what do you know about managing people? What do you know about leadership?

My response was that while at St. Lawrence, I took ROTC and when I graduated I became an officer in the United States Army. I was sent, for 2 years, to South Korea, where my command was a 600 man company whose responsibility was maintaining communication for a battalion whose mission was to maintain surveillance over the Southern part of North Korea. I learned to manage different groups of people with difficult personalities. I learned how to lead and I have used those skill sets every day of my life. Thank you St. Lawrence and thank you United States Army!

Peter FitzRandolph had repeatedly asked Judy and myself to come to Canton to take a week off and teach some classes. Four years ago I turned the tables on him and said bring me your best 15 financial students and we will put on a conference.

I asked 12 leaders of different parts of my industry to come and speak about themselves, their experiences and most importantly how they got into the business. The two days were both fascinating as well as educational.

On the last day, I was summing up and asked a simple question of the students, how many of you have ever been to this city? The answer was only 1 of the 15. How were they ever going to get jobs if they had never been to New York City and had no contacts with the world of finance?

I went to Dan Sullivan, then president of St. Lawrence, and said we need a NYC program. We must provide kids with jobs in NYC. We must provide them with a break. If we don’t, no one will.

Dan was supportive as well as understanding. Raise the money from New York City alumni to sustain the program and the board will support you. That was done.

In 3½ years we have mentored and found internships for 91 students -- 59 in finance and 32 in the arts.

Of the finance students 37% have gotten job offers. That’s quite a record and one in which we should be proud. Yet I think we can do better.

It goes without saying this would not have been accomplished without President Bill Fox and his wonderful wife Lynn. They have been enthusiastic supporters from day one.


In order to be successful you need an accommodating U.S. government and an administration that believes in capitalism.

America is still the most amazing country for creating opportunities. I continue to marvel at the way this country, and only this country, incubates and grows new industries in a way that could simply never happen anywhere else. We continue to be a beacon for talent and ambition and drive.

A. Where else in the world could we have the tech industry which is transforming our lives and productivity on a daily basis,

B. the biotech industry, which is revolutionizing the treatment of diseases that were once the scourge of humanity?

C. The university system, of which you are all a part, continues to outpace and outshine every other university system in the world. We are all fortunate.

Many graduation speakers will stand up here and tell you that the most important thing in life is to do what you love. How do you know what you love?

The truth is we tend to enjoy what we are good at. I promise you, that each of you has a skill or talent that is unique, that nobody else has. Pursue what you are good at; discover what you do better than anyone else. And if you do that, you will discover what you love. And once you dig in to the thing you love and are good at, the future will come more easily and obstacles will fall away.

Do not be afraid to fail. If you don’t fail you haven’t taken chances. But when you do fail learn from it. And if you fall at least fall forward closer to your goal.

Never give up on yourselves, never. Life can bring difficult times, but remember that coming from St. Lawrence is a crucial asset for you. Stay in touch with your friends; seek each other out as the years roll on and help each other. Remember that in this country the sky is the limit.