Once Upon A Time On Wall Street

The struggle to establish an African American presence is a saga of ambition against overwhelming odds

to potential investors. Knowing that they were halfway there with the financing energized his staff, but a small technicality in an old law delayed Daniels’ plans for two years and eventually he found himself alone again.

To locate the perfect partner, Daniels went back to his address file and contacted many of the black brokers he knew, only to be turned down every time. … He kept plugging along until one rejection included a suggestion. Bache & Company broker Paul Haywood told him that he had just turned down a similar offer from a man in St. Louis who was also trying to get a firm together. His name was Travers Bell [my father].
Travers J. Bell Jr. was born in Illinois in 1941. In direct contrast to Daniels’ southern upbringing, Bell grew up against a backdrop of city streets and tall buildings on the south side of Chicago. Like most of the kids in his neighborhood, he had no aspirations of working on Wall Street; it just was not something that black people did. After high school graduation, Bell was unsure about his future and short of money, which provided the perfect opportunity for his father to reel him into the securities industry. Bell Sr. had always tried to get young Travers interested in the stock market and got his son a job as a messenger at Dempsey-Tegeler, a midwest brokerage house where Sr. worked as a clerk in the operations department. At the time, Dempsey-Tegeler was one of the most powerful investment houses outside of New York. An experience on young Travers’ first day convinced him that Wall Street was where he wanted to spend his career.

In a story Bell often repeated, he described how he was told to deliver a briefcase across the street to a company called H. N. Billesby. On his way over, Bell looked into the briefcase and saw what appeared to be meaningless crumpled papers. After completing the walk to his destination, he met the specified man to give him the briefcase and in return received a check for $175,000. “My eyes went boiing!” Bell later said. “I thought that this guy was paying me for paper!” Assured that the securities business was the path to fortune, Bell signed on full-time as a messenger. However, unlike most other blacks who had preceded him in that position, he did not stay in the mailroom for long thanks to Jerome Tegeler, the co-founder and driving force of the firm. One day, he approached the young messenger and sat him down for a chat. “Travers, I wanted to help your father but I couldn’t because nobody was ready for that yet,” Tegeler opened with. “However, I don’t care anymore and I am going to do something many people are not going to like. I am going to teach you this business.”

Tegeler deservedly had a reputation as a demanding, bullish man. His nickname, “Jerry the Great,” fit his tyrannical style and emperor-like stature. However, he had a generous side

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