The Smartest Guy in the Room (Financial Services Company of the Year) - Page 5 of 6

The Smartest Guy in the Room (Financial Services Company of the Year)

Bernard Beal

Beal’s smarts led a teacher to recommend him for A Better Chance, an organization that places students from low-income neighborhoods into more challenging private and public schools. To be considered for the program, Beal had to pass a 100-question New York City Regents exam with a score of 66 or higher. So sure of himself, Beal answered only 66 of those questions, leaving the remaining 34 blank. When the teacher suggested he answer the remaining questions, the young Beal replied, “I finished it.” When the teacher explained that just one incorrect answer would eliminate him from participating in the program, Beal’s response was, “I didn’t get one wrong.” The teacher demanded he sit down and finish the exam, so Beal sat at the desk with hands folded until time was up–not bothering to finish the exam. He passed.

The next year, Beal began classes at the prestigious Wooster School in Danbury, Connecticut. For a brief time at Wooster, Beal was humbled to learn that he was no longer the brightest kid in the class. But with the help of a kind teacher who helped him after hours, Beal quickly rose to the challenge. It wasn’t long before the same intellectual haughtiness he displayed in the Bronx fueled him through Carleton College, Stanford University’s M.B.A. program, and onto Wall Street as a young banker at E.F. Hutton. “You know, I’d have to say that same kind of arrogance, that same kind of hunger, is inside of me. It’s still there,” Beal confesses.

Beal’s command of facts and figures masked one of his great weaknesses. While he has always been a great pitchman, able to woo clients with his social ease, he will readily admit that he’s not the best manager of people–something he didn’t discover until he started the firm. “I really wanted a business plan where everybody just worked, knew what to do, and did it–and there was no hierarchy,” says Beal. “I just didn’t want the hierarchical structure. But as human beings we are herd animals who require a leader. If there isn’t a leader, then the herd stampedes or scatters.”

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