July 2017

Focusing On What You Can Affect Versus Being Overwhelmed Or Frozen By The Noise

Dear Clients,

One year ago, we wrote about what we felt were the best possible ways to navigate given the cross currents we were then collectively facing in the financial and political worlds. As a brief reminder, last July we were coping with the surprising Brexit vote, the U.S. was faced with the most confusing election of our lifetime with Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump leading the packs, populism was seemingly on the upswing, isolationism was suddenly popular and many historic conventions were under fire. The financial markets were volatile with what seemed like half of the smartest investors believing we were heading toward a recession and the other half convinced we were well on our way to dangerous inflation. The Fed appeared adamant about the need to raise rates, but appeared paralyzed and almost clueless about how to do so without creating a massive market panic. Investors and CEOs were unsure of their very foundation and uncertainty seemed to rule every day. Regardless of your constituency, as an investor, corporate executive or employee-partner at Jefferies, it would have been understandable to have some type of delay in your decision-making or, worse yet, to be paralyzed by the overload of information and uncertainty.

Well, despite all of the incredible “noise,” it is clear that one thing has certainly happened these past 12 months:


It turns out, of course, that if you were not paralyzed these past twelve months, the members of each respective aforementioned constituency now know that there were many productive ways to invest in the financial markets, improve your company’s strategic and operating positions, and improve the capabilities, efficiency, importance and value of Jefferies. It is never easy – and hindsight sure makes it seem more obvious – but the reality is that those who were able to successfully parse through the incredible amount of “noise” to which we were each subjected every day came out ahead and those that got consumed or confused by it, fell behind.

So here we are today at the mid-point of 2017 and, surprise, every one of us can still continue to choose to be overloaded by the continual second-by-second flashes of news, data, rumors and opinions if we desire. Yes, we believe that every one of us needs to be educated, informed and pro-active in helping make the world a better place and it is our privilege and responsibility as citizens to be appropriately involved. It is what makes the world a better place, and active learning and participation in the political, economic and social realms by every capable person is critical and we greatly encourage it. However, that doesn’t mean that we all need to be sucked into the vacuum of noise, despair and uncertainty thrown at us. To drive the point home, how many of the recipients of this email will be personally and actively involved with:

  1. Determining what the Russians did or didn't do during the U.S. Presidential election and what to do about it.
  2. Deciding whether central banks should raise or lower rates and by how much and at what pace.
  3. Deciding what to do about Kim Jong-un.
  4. Determining whether England will have a hard or soft exit from the EU or change its mind and lean back toward the status quo.
  5. Deciding what is going to happen with U.S. healthcare reform, tax reform, infrastructure investment, global repatriation or regulatory policy. (As an aside, on this last point, we can only hope for some directional improvement in all of these areas as nothing massive appears possible--but even modest improvement would benefit us all).

We are not saying that all of these (and countless more) aren’t truly important issues that require the time, expertise and focus of as many people as possible. In fact, we greatly appreciate and thank those who have committed their full time efforts to best address all of these important challenges. We are just saying, “C’mon, let’s not allow all of us to get caught up in this incredible “noise” and have it distract us from the important areas that each of us can truly affect daily in our respective business lives."

Here is a sample list of things we believe each of us may have a better chance of affecting this next twelve months than the five big-picture global challenges above:

  1. Personally take steps to help improve the culture within your business. Mentor somebody or, better yet, set up a mentoring program. Work on a community outreach program with your co-workers. Make it a point to give clearer and more accurate performance reviews to people who work for you. Encourage people who work for you to give you open feedback and listen to it. Treat the people within your business with respect. Strive to help your organization increase its diversity. Lead by example in terms of integrity, honesty and long-term values.
  2. Help find new clients for your business. They are the lifeblood of every company and, while there is nothing wrong with doing the best job possible to serve existing clients, nothing is more rewarding (or valued) than extending the reach of your business by bringing in new clients who value your firm’s services and will help fuel growth.
  3. If you are an investor, learn how to help market your funds and firm. If you are a marketer, learn as much as you can about investing. Always push outside your personal comfort zone. This is but one example of stretching and it can be extrapolated to every area of each business. Whether you wind up expanding your job scope or not, it will make you better at your existing responsibilities.
  4. Continue your education. When you stop learning, you stop growing. This can be formal classes, on-line learning, reading or through novel experiences that you go out of your way to find.
  5. Recruit new great partners for your business and help to retain the best ones who may have a moment of weakness. Help keep out all “bad apples.”
  6. Help cut costs smartly and efficiently throughout your business without being asked or forced to do so. Those companies that have a culture of efficiency and caring about the bottom line will be the winners. Better for you to be leading this charge than having someone inside or outside your business doing it for (to) you.
  7. Help improve your business' brand every day. You are the critical asset. You are the voice and the face. You are what the customer, investor, supplier, vendor and recruit sees first and last. If you live the brand and strive to improve it every day, you and your business will become ever more valuable. If you think your brand is lacking in any one area, speak up and try to improve it.
  8. Help innovate with technology. Be creative. Be aware of all opportunities that may be available to improve your business. You need to be open and available to think out of the box. Some things will work, some will not. Finding innovative solutions will require sometimes failing or taking a step back. Only winners have setbacks. Losers never do because they don’t try.
  9. Spend time thinking about strategy and where you and your business are going. Every leader appreciates reflective, constructive and smart feedback on how to improve the strategic direction of the team, department, division or company. Employees become leaders when they help set, adjust or improve their business's strategic direction.
  10. Be constantly aware of the environment in which you operate, including all cross-currents from things you cannot control. There will be times to pause, reflect and wait for better clarity. There is nothing wrong with being smart and aware of the world around us. Just don’t be paralyzed by it.

This list is far from exhaustive and, while the priorities will certainly differ from business to business, we suggest that these ten points may be universally appreciated within every endeavor, not just Jefferies or Leucadia. We cannot guarantee much, but we will promise each of you this: If you and the people in your (our) respective businesses focus on these ten versus wasting time fixating on what should be done with Putin or Kim Jong-un, each of you, our businesses and the world will be in better shape in one year’s time. Next year, on July 1, 2018, there will still be myriad, brand new and seemingly urgent “life or death” issues that will provide an abundance of further “noise.” We promise that on July 2, 2018, the sun will once again rise and the world will continue to spin. Always keep perspective.

With respect and appreciation,

Rich and Brian


CEO, Jefferies Financial Group
@handlerrich Twitter | Instagram
President, Jefferies Financial Group