The Corner

Sweet Autonomy

Today, I continue with my series on Bruce and Suzie Kovner. And I address a particular legend: Did Bruce drive a cab in New York? Did this master of the markets — did this future multi-billionaire — actually drive a cab, before he embarked on his trading career? He did. It’s true.

He worked the “graveyard shift,” as he says: 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Let me give you an excerpt from today’s installment.

“Did you learn things?” I ask. “Oh, yes,” Kovner answers. “It was so much fun. Every ride was an experience. There was always a saga in the backseat, some of them hilarious, some of them unrepeatable. And the places you wound up . . . I was apparently fearless. It was wonderful.”

Kovner continues, “I have to say, though this reflects very badly on my character, that I loved starting every evening with about $20 in change and having, at the end of my shift, three or four hundred dollars.” A nice wad. Bruce appreciated the money, of course. But just as much, he appreciated what he calls the “autonomy.” And this relates to his future career. “One of the things I loved about the financial markets is that they grant you total autonomy. I’m not an organization guy. I’ve never worked for a big organization, except momentarily. I felt very comfortable in the marketplace, because, if you do it well, it gives you autonomy in life.”

What Bruce wanted was “an activity in which my own intellectual work had an immediate outcome and freed me from the organizational constraints that I wasn’t ready to submit to.” And he found it.

I thought of Bruce Kovner the other day when I saw an ad on a bus. It said, “Drive with Uber: No Shifts, No Boss, No Limits.”

It’s not for everyone, obviously. But it’s for some. I apparently lack an entrepreneurial bent (as the record shows). But I hugely applaud it in others, and I know it benefits society as a whole.

Kids with lemonade stands? They grow up to hire others — the kids with no lemonade stands.

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