Remarks, All Stars Project, Learning from Leaders Luncheon, New York, NY

Chairman Gary Gensler

December 3, 2010

Good afternoon. I thank Rich Sokolow for that very kind introduction. I also want to thank Michael Greenberger for inviting me to speak at today’s event.

It is an honor to address the All Stars Project’s “Learning from Leaders” Luncheon. It’s also great to be in New York amongst so many professionals from the financial community and not have to talk about derivatives!

The All Stars Project is to be commended for promoting after school programs that help so many youth. After school programs are so critical in helping young people grow as students and as people.

Though I have not been involved with the All Stars Project, I am going to speak from my personal experience as a dad, as a son and as a former kid.

Much of who we become may come from the classroom. Some people could be fascinated by trigonometry and go on to pursue a career in mathematics or in finance. But for many people, that’s not the case. I think, for most of us, far more comes from outside the classroom – from our experiences with family and friends and from the things that we do outside of school.

For some it may be the performing arts, such as through the All Stars Project, a sport or even the A/V club. It may be something in their community or at their church. For my daughters, it has included soccer, the debate team and playing the guitar.

For me, it was student government. I wasn’t much of an athlete. Though I got a D in French, I was reasonably good with numbers and math, so I ran for class treasurer. In those days, being class treasurer meant making sure that we sold enough pizza at the basketball games and wrestling matches so that we could pay for our class prom.

After school programs are about a lot of things – learning social skills, finding your own way and discovering your interests – but maybe one of the most important aspects of these programs is learning how to set goals and find passions. It’s also about failing, dusting yourself off and doing it again.

I think about my dad, who grew up in Baltimore as a first generation American. He lost his father when he was 16 and was kicked out of school a year later for actually punching his history teacher in the nose. It seems that this history teacher thought what was happening to the Jewish people in Europe in 1939 was alright, and my father had a distinctly different view.

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My dad really found himself, though, outside of school in other ways. He was a little guy; he was about 5’4”, but he used to go work out at the gym with his immigrant cousin Izzy and some other guys. Spending time at the gym weightlifting after school really gave my dad a venue to grow as a person.

My dad also was fascinated by electronics and mechanics. This was way before the iPod generation. His shop teacher, noting that my dad was able and quick with his hands mechanically, asked him if he wanted to earn a little money after school. The shop teacher had some old pinball machines and had my dad work on them outside of school. This became his after school program.

Both my dad and his cousin Izzy went on to serve in World War II. Izzy, staff sergeant Isadore Jachman, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor after losing his life heroically saving his paratroop company near Flamierge, Belgium, in the Battle of the Bulge – he was one of only three Jews to be awarded the military’s highest honor during World War II.

My dad never went to college. After he came home from the war, his after school job of fixing pinball machines with his shop teacher became his business. He used his mustering out pay from the war to buy beat up pinball machines and place them in local Baltimore bars.

I used to travel with him and help him count the nickels he took out of the machines. I guess you could say this was my first foray into business and the world of finance. My dad’s success in life had little to do with what he learned in trigonometry class or any other class during the school day.

So to the 20 or so youth leaders from the All Stars Program in the room, I want to say: Stick with it. Regardless of the activity you choose to pursue outside of school – performing arts, sports or anything else – it will be worth it.

And be confident. Pursue your dreams. And ask questions. We all only get one go at life, but the folks who have been around a little longer often have something to share about life. Try to borrow from their experience. This is one area where plagiarism is allowed. You can borrow from other people’s experience and learn from it.

To the rest of you – the supporters and friends of the All Stars Project: Having been involved myself with some great nonprofits – including the Enterprise Community Partners that promotes housing for low-income families – I suggest you consider, if you can, participating in other ways outside of providing financial support . Get involved with an organization. If you can find the time within the various responsibilities of work and family, and if you care about an organization’s mission, lend your time and expertise to it. The organizations and their missions will benefit from it. And I think you’ll find it very fulfilling as well.

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Before I close, I’ll share one story about how I might have benefited from the All Stars Project’s Development School for Youth. When I was 20 years old in business school, I met a fellow student that had spent a summer working on Wall Street and thought that I would be a good fit for an investment banking job. She helped me to get some interviews. She was furious when she found out that I went to my first job interview with the Boston Consulting Group in blue jeans – I didn’t own a suit and hadn’t realized that it would be a problem if I didn’t wear one! Had I been involved in the Development School for Youth, maybe I would have known to wear a suit.

My friend called my dad and asked permission to take me shopping. Interestingly, she was calling the same man who as a 17-year-old had broken his teacher’s nose. We went to Brooks Brothers and she helped me buy my first suit. Somehow I ended up getting a job on Wall Street. Furthermore, I was quite honored last night to be joined by my 14-year-old daughter Isabel, another Izzi, at the White House to meet the President for its Hanukkah celebration.

Again, I am honored to be with you today and would like to thank you for all the work you are doing to bolster effective programs for our nation’s young people.

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Last Updated: January 18, 2011