For those of us at Jefferies living and working in the United States and perhaps around the world, November is a time to reflect and appreciate all that we have and the good in our lives. The month of November also marks the end of our 2023 fiscal year. For the world, this November arrives at an incredibly upsetting and unsettled moment highlighted by two significant and horrible wars, each of which has the frightening potential for further escalation. At the same time, we experience continued uncertainty and fragility in the global economy and capital markets.
It is especially easy during times like these to allow despair to overtake hope and slowly allow oneself to drift into the abyss of isolation, depression, ineffectiveness, or desperation. In fact, this is one of those periods we have talked about historically when every surprise seems to be a bad one, and it is far too easy to become overwhelmed by the magnitude of the negative issues, as opposed to remembering the reality of what eventually always happens: Things can and will get better.
Against this backdrop, for our Thanksgiving month message, we would like to share with each of you the thoughts, beliefs, truths and ideals in our lives for which we are incredibly grateful. You may share some or all of these themes in your life, and our guess is that you have many others that serve as a greater source of inspiration and clarity. As you read our list, our hope is that you feel compelled to write down your own basis for being grateful at this time. Sometimes the very act of writing down something important brings light, life and reality back to the surface to remind us who we are, what we have, and where we are going.
Seven Things We Are Thankful For During A Thankless Time
- We are all part of Jefferies and we have purpose. People join and stay with a firm because they find the work stimulating, believe they are making a difference in something meaningful and important, enjoy and respect their teammates, take pride in properly satisfying the complex needs of important clients, see opportunity for personal professional growth, are excited about taking an active role (while being supported by others) in building their very own exciting and inspiring career trajectory, and are being compensated fairly and transparently in a manner that allows them to enjoy their lives and help those they care about. You will never hear either of us say Jefferies is “perfect” or without challenges or complexity. In fact, we still spend time trying to eliminate any roadblocks that still exist and prevent us from all being the best we can be. That said, we believe in our minds and know in our hearts that Jefferies is pretty darn awesome. We have all come together to create something that is important and has true purpose and value to society. No matter what the current adversity of the day may be, we both bounce out of bed excited to get to the many tasks at hand that we know will make Jefferies even better. We also take great pride in knowing that so many of you around us similarly bounce out of your bed with that very same energy to grab a heavy oar and help us paddle ahead, regardless of the turbulence in the waters. There is always something we can do to make Jefferies better. There is always a new idea, a new partner, a creative solution to a client’s problem, an efficiency not yet discovered, a new region of the world to pursue, or an entirely new business ready to sprout out of a great internal collaboration between co-workers. Jefferies is that magical place where we can justifiably think as large as we want because we are incredibly capable and suited for the largest and most complex opportunities, yet we are small enough and flat enough where a small group (or even an individual) can truly be a gamechanger for all of us. If this isn’t purpose, we don’t know what is.
- We individually and collectively have given Jefferies a soul. Jefferies is a thriving business that is plugged into the global economic infrastructure and embedded in the business fabric of every industry and almost every region of the world. There are other firms in our industry that can say the exact same thing, and a few with perhaps even bigger scale than we currently enjoy. But ask yourself: What other firm in our industry (or perhaps others) walks the walk like every one of us at Jefferies gets to do? We don’t give lip service to honesty and integrity. We take pride in honoring our word and commitments. We treat each other with respect and compassion. We embrace diversity and inclusion (with much work still to be done) because it is what is right and what will make us the best we can be, not because it is on a checklist. We understand the responsibility and privilege of using our platform and relationships to make the world a better place, especially for those most unfortunate and in great need. We take stands, not because they are politically correct or a way of optimizing short-term business. We do it because it is right, and our actions are a cumulative reflection of our individual moral compasses. We did not expect to do business in Afghanistan, but when we saw the carnage on innocent people caused by the U.S. pullout, we felt compelled to immediately raise needed humanitarian aid. The moment the invasion started in Ukraine, instead of waiting to see which way the political winds were blowing, we sprang into action, again for humanitarian assistance to aid our Ukrainian brothers and sisters. We were one of the first to react to the horrible reality of the Hamas terrorist attack, and we were inspired as our clients and friends helped us deliver an incredible amount of money for humanitarian purposes to support the victims and their families. Tonga, Haiti, Hawaii…the list goes on and on. But it is not the magnitude and diversity of what we are accomplishing together that makes us most proud. What gives us the most satisfaction is knowing that the people throughout Jefferies know how important it is for us to individually and collectively stand up for what is good and just. Our company has a soul, and that provides more motivation than any paycheck could ever provide.
- No place to hide. There is something different at Jefferies, and we all know it. There are firms that “talk a lot” or are so “big and cumbersome” that it is just too easy for an individual to hide beneath a thick, multi-layered organizational fabric. Some people find a bureaucratic environment attractive because there is a “built in” excuse for not taking action – there isn’t an easy or straightforward way to just roll up your sleeves and make something important happen. Instead, the days, weeks, quarters and years can flow into each other while too much time is spent on politics or “selling” others on what you are doing; but in your heart you know you are “just going through the daily motions.” This concept doesn’t exist at Jefferies, and we love it. There really is no place to hide, and all of us work very hard to keep it this way. This is wonderful if you are special because it will be noticed by all. It also has the added benefit of keeping people who are comfortable with “cruise control” out of our firm because they know their strategy will become quickly apparent to all. This firmwide mentality seems obvious to all of us who have been here for a while but screams out as “unique” to the new people who join us. We constantly hear from them that, “everyone is so approachable, collaborative, ambitious, responsive, and driven to serve our clients and build Jefferies to the next level.” This zero arrogance, “can do” mentality and extreme sense of urgency is our secret sauce. It has taken decades for us to create this culture, and we will never take it for granted.
- We have our health and access to world-class healthcare. Our moms always used to say to us, “as long as you have your health. . . .” Well, as you get older you realize that truer words have never been spoken. Without personal health (mental and physical) for yourself and your loved ones, nothing else matters. This is only made more obvious when you see on every news outlet the innocent people (on all sides of every conflict) who are living in war zones and left to fight to stay alive under the very worst conditions imaginable. It is one thing to have to deal with the personal tragedy of not being able to get quality care for yourself. It is an entirely different level of anguish and pain to watch a loved one go through the carnage that is happening every single day in far too many regions. To be infirm and not be able to enter a functioning hospital is heartbreaking for every population, and we are watching this occur in too many places today. We spend a LOT of money globally on the healthcare and well-being of our entire Jefferies family. Usually it just seems like a “matter-of-fact” perk that is assumed to be the lowest entry bar to be a decent company. In times like these, we think it is important to really reflect on how fortunate we all are in this regard and, while we are not looking for any “thank yous” from anyone for the quality of healthcare Jefferies provides, we do believe each of us should have a moment of reflection and appreciation of our great fortune that we can all be treated well and in a safe environment.
- We are among the most fortunate people financially on the planet. One of the biggest reasons people come to Jefferies, or finance in general, is because if you succeed, you will be incredibly well compensated. We get it, and we too are guilty as charged in wanting to optimize the financial rewards for our hard work. That said, it doesn’t matter if you are the most junior person at our firm, the most senior, or anywhere in between, relative to every scale on planet earth, we need to be grateful. Certain years, all the stars align and the windfall is enjoyed by all. Certain years, half the stars align and that is good enough. Some years, like this one, it is hard to find more than a star or two. It is a long race, and the years balance out, but even in years like this one when most of our business lines slowed down to a trickle, the end result is that each of us will have plenty to be thankful and appreciative about, even though it may not seem that way on a relative comparison to other periods.
- Finishing 2023 sets us up for 2024. Perhaps the most exciting business topic that we are most thankful for is how our firm is positioned for the future. Our biggest business, Investment Banking, has been operating at a cyclical low for almost the entire year. Our trading business, while resilient and well managed, was never designed to be able to pull the full weight of the firm given all of the imbedded costs and infrastructure required to be a top tier player. As we see it, every single one of our competitors is in the exact same boat in terms of the revenue scale, cost structure, and pressure on operating margins that we have experienced this year. There is one difference that separates us from just about all of the rest of our competitors. In 2023, we made a massive investment in the future of our entire organization by hiring A++ talent (to supplement our existing A++ team) and we did this across all departments, geographies, industry verticals, products and services. This was structured as we have in the past, aligning most of the incremental costs with future productivity and ensuring the size and scale of the investment was made in proper proportion to our existing business. Similar to our competitors, our depressed 2023 revenues will result in very challenging ROE for shareholders and compensation for employees, but the difference is that we are now built for the next level of exceptional and recurring growth. The markets will re-open. They always do. People will once again wonder how Jefferies got to yet the next level. The answer is that we had the nerve to do this during these challenging times because our capital foundation is strong, it is sized and structured properly and, most importantly, we know our existing team will embrace our new partners for the collective benefit of our clients.
- Our family, friends and loved ones define us. Forget 1-6. Every one of us at Jefferies knows that it is all about the love we have for our family and friends that define who we are. This is what we are most grateful for, and this is the source of strength and motivation that each of us draw upon in challenging times. Our family and friends help us stay strong in the face of inhumanity around the globe. They remind us that we work so hard and care so much because we want to be great role models for our children and supporters of our significant others and the rest of the people we hold dear. Our love for our families and friends allows us to put all inconveniences (like an almost shut IPO and leveraged finance market, an impossible to navigate M&A market, and an erratic and painful trading climate) into proper perspective. Not being able to get a deal done, please your client and create value for Jefferies and yourself is not life or death. These are frustrating nuisances that will eventually be remedied. Always knowing what truly matters most is what will hold each of us together during the most difficult of times. You all get this at Jefferies, and for that we are both incredibly thankful and appreciative.
The two of us are going to give our all to finish out this impossible fiscal year on as strong of a high note as humanly possible. We are also going to have the most amazing Thanksgiving meals with our family and friends. Even if you do not celebrate Thanksgiving, we suggest you find a meal this month with the people you care about so you too can reflect on how fortunate every one of us truly is. This is one of those times when it is all but impossible to make sense of the world, the financial markets, and what is immediately next for our industry. But it is also one of those times when it is easy to make sense of how much we all mean to each other at Jefferies, how proud we are about what we are building together, and most importantly, how thankful each one of us needs to be when we walk into our respective homes and see the familiar beautiful faces of the ones we love so much.
With heartfelt thanks to every one of you and your families,
Rich and Brian