Once Upon A Time On Wall Street

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

to his personality. In the 1950s, Dempsey-Tegeler employed an African American named Richard Thomas who also began in the mailroom. Soon Thomas expressed his desire to become a broker, and with Tegeler supporting his efforts, he became the first black account executive in St. Louis. Likewise, Tegeler saw a spark in Bell that suggested the youngster had the potential for bigger things. Tegeler’s son, Tim, who worked at Dempsey Tegeler during the same period, said Bell’s rise had to do with performance, not race. “To him [Jerry Tegeler] people were people, no matter what their background. The only thing that counted was their ambition. If they had that, he would help them. And Trav had that as was obvious by his career.”

Because Bell put in many long days and had a mentor to look out for him, he moved up quickly. Dempsey-Tegeler constant
ly acquired companies, and in 1963 it bought Straus, Blosser, and McDowell, another midwest brokerage firm with 15 offices. Tegeler made Bell, at age 23, the operations manager of the whole company. He worked in the accounting end of the business until he graduated from Washington University in 1967.

After graduating from college, Bell went to work at another broker/dealer named Fusz Schmelzle where he served as chief operating officer while building his sales and trading experience. All along he was determined to have his own firm one day. “The one point that outweighed everything else was that, as a black man, I had this unusual opportunity to learn the securities business, and that knowledge just was not with anybody else black. I had an obligation to exercise that knowledge. That was really the triggering point. I felt it was more than me,” [according to a Travers Bell interview appearing in a june 1987 Institutional Investor].

One day while sitting in his office, Bell reached across his desk to pick up the ringing phone.

“Travers Bell speaking,” he yelled into the receiver.

“Mr. Bell, this is the most important telephone call you have ever received,” Willie Daniels said.

“Mister, have you considered that it might be the most important phone call you ever made?” Bell replied.

Soon afterward, Travers Bell was in New York to meet Willie Daniels at a Broadway play, The Wiz. The idea for Daniels & Bell Inc., was born.

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