Executive Times






2005 Book Reviews


Leg the Spread: A Woman's Adventures Inside the Trillion-Dollar Boys' Club of Commodities Trading by Cari Lynn


Rating: (Recommended)




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Cari Lynn takes readers inside the Chicago Mercantile Exchange in her new book, Leg the Spread. What she and readers find there is an amalgam of driven people, all striving to win. Every player proves him or herself in the market every day, and the stakes are huge. Most players lose. Any participant would have a tough time breaking into a pit at the Merc, but women have additional obstacles thrown their way especially in the form of sexual harassment from men who have become used to a testosterone-based working environment.


Here’s an excerpt, from the end of Chapter 8, “Levels of Support and Resistance,” pp. 175-179:


The need to prove oneself appeared to be an integral facet of many traders’ personalities. This could manifest itself in various ways, but the most obvi­ous and most common seemed to be the amount of contracts you traded—as if large contract size was somehow a testament to a trader’s virility and adeptness. A Dow Futures trader once explained to me, “There’s a point in your early career where you just have to take the plunge and make a colos­sal trade and think, ‘This is either going to make me, or this is going to blow me out of the water, and then I’d know I shouldn’t be trading anyway?” Luckily for him, his philosophy panned out, for after his do-or-die trade, he remained standing.

John had told me that his secret to making multimillions on the trad­ing floor boiled down to two things: (1) knowing how to take advantage of others’ fears; and (2) assuming a larger-than-life persona. “This is why I was known as ‘Take ‘Em All!’ “he said. “Intimidation is key?’ I’d heard other sto­ries of intimidation on the Floor. Tom told me about a trader, whom I’ll call Carl, who lived a high-profile, party-with-celebrities life. “Carl hardly comes down to the Floor anymore:’ Tom said, “but when he does, he pushes everyone out of the way to claim his spot, even though he may not have been in for nine months. He looks like a heavyset Rod Stewart—his hair is half lion, he has a fake tan, his shirt is unbuttoned. He puts on three-hundred-lot positions—that means for every tick, he’s up or down $7,500. This guy has balls the size of Jupiter. He just walks in screaming, ‘Fuck you, sell! Fuck you too, buy!’ And everyone just stares?’

Not only are most traders obsessed with throwing around large num­bers, especially if it will gain attention, but several of the men at the Merc expressed annoyance with those who traded just a small number of con­tracts at a time. John and another trader both bemoaned having to hear a woman call in her measly one-lots. “All day long:’ they complained, “I have to watch her jumping up and down, ‘One! Sell one!’ She acts like she’s trad­ing one-hundred-lots?’

“Would she bother you if she was jumping up and down all day going, ‘Sell ten!’?” I asked.

“No:’ they agreed in unison, that was a respectable enough amount for her not to bother them.


John sometimes wore a headset while he was trading so that he could arb with a broker in the pit. Recently, he’d begun sharing his broker with another trader, so that they could split expenses, but yesterday the other trader stole John’s trade—which was a $4,000 trade—and they both knew it. “You fucker!” John yelled, and the guy, realizing that what he’d done was slimy, said, “I’ll make it up to you—I’ll buy you a hooker?’

“A good hooker’s gonna run you around four-hundred to five-hundred bucks” John said.

“I know” the guy answered, as if it were no problem.

John thought it over. “I’m gonna have you get me a fishing rod instead.” A few days later, John picked out his new fishing pole. With that, and a handshake, the stolen-trade incident was forgotten.

Male traders all tended to agree that they were better suited to a detached attitude than the women. The men believed that the castigating environment of the Floor was no big deal—that is, once the closing bell rang. But what bugged them was that most of the women here thought it was a big deal—even after the bell rang. They offered up that women would hold a grudge, stew, demand an apology, fume, become bitter, complain to everyone about each and every incident, hound the man until he gave in, and, basically, never let it go.

Alice told me about a woman trader who’d managed to come up with a reason for hating just about every man at the Merc. She eventually became so emblazoned that she began referring to all men on the Floor as “rapists?’ It didn’t take long for this woman to leave the Merc, and trading, altogether.

In order to prevent things from going this far, one woman trader, Jen— JNN—made the decision not to trade in the pit, but rather to stand directly outside of it and place trades through a broker. “I didn’t like getting picked on by people in the pit and then having them slap me on the back and say, ‘Can I buy you a beer downstairs?’” she said. “I’d get very frustrated by that. So if I go through a broker there’s no one to blame but myself. Someone didn’t tick me off, someone didn’t stuff me, someone didn’t screw me over. I don’t have to feel like I got pickpocketed. There are people here who want you to do badly, but then at 3:15 they’re your best friend?’

Alice, however, was a woman who had perfected the art of detachment. I knew she was about as far as one could get from a romantic, but just the thought of intimacy seemed to disgust her. She readily professed to “arrested development” and “lack of emotion?’ John, too, confessed to an emotional void. “I was remarkably born without any feelings:’ he once told me. Which is just another curious quality that likely made the both of them successful traders.

And yet, despite their professed callousness, I noticed that actual feel­ings started to surface when a stock that both Alice and John held suddenly plunged. John had fortuitously sold off a large portion not long before, but Alice hadn’t. And then, Alice was hit again, this time on her largest stock holding—she suffered a million-dollar-plus loss. Although she denied the correlation, she began experiencing fluke physical symptoms, such as wheezing and fatigue, which landed her in the hospital, where all they found was high blood pressure. They released her with the recommenda­tion that she speak to a psychiatrist.

Reluctantly, Alice met with the psychiatrist, who, among other ques­tions, asked if Alice was prone to binge spending. “I don’t think so,” Alice said.

“What was your last big purchase?” the psychiatrist asked. Alice replied meekly, “A bed frame?’

“How much did you spend on it?”

Alice shifted uncomfortably. “Twenty thousand dollars?’ The psychia­trist looked at her knowingly. “But I did have a few hundred thousand in my bank account at that time:’ Alice added, but to no avail. The doctor arrived at the diagnosis of manic-depression. She wrote out a prescription, which Alice never filled.

Alice then took a break from the Merc Club and from trading in gen­eral. She still, however, spent much time analyzing various charts of the Market, for she found that to be a very relaxing activity. Alice never told the psychiatrist that she hadn’t taken the medication, but, as the weeks passed, the psychiatrist was quite pleased with Alice’s progress. And after a couple of months, Alice returned to the Merc Club.

Her first question of the day for all of us was: “What was your last big purchase?” John thought for a second. “Over $1,000 of fishing gear:’ he said. She asked another trader, “An $8,000 watch?’ She asked me. “Uhhh, a $200 plane ticket?” I offered.

“Oh please:’ Alice groaned. “And it was probably a work-related trip?’ I smiled feebly. “Well:’ Alice said to me, “I suppose you’re the only one at this table who’s not manic-depressive?’

Even though Alice was feeling better, there was something different about the aura at her table—it seemed to take on a bitter tone. I got the feeling that everyone was telling one another lies. If they’d lost money (and many of them had), they said they hadn’t, or if they’d made money, they exaggerated it one way or the other. Alice started becoming officious with John, and the more he felt she was prying into his personal life, the more he began lying about it. Alice lied too, and freely admitted to me that she would often transpose her winning and losing days, and that she would exaggerate those wins and losses—only, not in the way one might think. If she had a winning day, she’d say, “It was tough, a rough day”; if she had a losing day, she’d say, “It was pretty good, I did okay?’ I asked her what the point was. “Because:’ she said, “I learned early on that everyone loves a loser?’

But the oddest thing was that they all pretty much knew that they were all lying to one another. “Doesn’t it bother you?” I asked Alice.

“I have no problem if someone needs to sit there and tell me lies to make themselves feel better:’ she said. “Why should it bother me? In fact, I don’t understand why you feel it would bother you, Can. I think that’s quite oversensitive of you, although you do have a tendency to get all worked up over things like that?’

That was the uniqueness of Alice’s table, and the trading world in gen­eral. What, from one view, seemed like support, was, from another view, a form of resistance. What constituted a true friend, someone whom you could trust? Wouldn’t a major factor be that they didn’t lie to you? Or was a good friend someone who allowed you to lie? Who didn’t care that, for whatever reason, you needed to lie?

I remember, at first, being greatly taken aback by the typical trader’s brash, blunt, whatever-goes attitude. But as time went on, I began to find something oddly refreshing about it. Here, you could say whatever was on your mind, and you could expect that no one would take it personally. You could be as craggy and crass as you wanted, and there was no need for political correctness. You could scream and call someone names, and then meet them for a drink after the bell with no mention of the scene that had occurred earlier. Where else could you find a group of co-workers so unwilling to hold a grudge? You were accepted here, faults and all. Because of this, deep bonds of friendship developed. These were the people you invited to your home for holidays, or went on vacations with, or with whom you bought adjacent summer homes. These were the people you designated as your children’s godparents. And you could count on them. All of the people at Alice’s table were loyal friends to one another—and they’d even begun to extend themselves to me.

But it was now that I learned how friendships here had their own set of rules—for everything instantly changed when it came to trading. The pit re­sembled a huge poker table—you had to be wary of everyone, you had to be adept at bluffing, and no matter how good a friend you were with someone, the bottom line was that from the moment you stepped into the pit, the only thing you could be concerned with was yourself, and how you were going to get the chips. If you were up, your best friend could be down. Or, it could be the other way around. And that was where all the lying came in.

What it all boiled down to, I believed, was that traders needed to adopt certain defense mechanisms to deal with an environment that promoted such an intense, self-centered instinct for survival. And what I had wit­nessed was the bizarre, push-and-pull behavior that ended up surfacing when money became just as—if not more—important than people.


Lynn introduces readers to fascinating people and an unusual world in Leg the Spread. There’s even some explanation of commodities trading that peppers each chapter. The individual stories of the people Lynn has selected can be fascinating to absorb. Leg the Spread is entertaining and interesting.


Steve Hopkins, March 23, 2005



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The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the April 2005 issue of Executive Times


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