“You had to be really smart to be hired by Dennis.” It might be comforting to think that intelligence alone accounted for the Turtles’ trading success, but that would be an excuse. That said, many of the Turtles were brilliant. So there is no intention here to slight their individual brainpower. However, a high IQ is hardly the key to success in life, or Enron’s hundreds of MBAs from the top schools in the country might have prevented its demise. Intelligence ensures absolutely nothing in the long run; success requires something more.
As it turns out, most CEOs at the biggest corporations didn’t attend Ivy League schools. They went to state universities, big and small, or to lesser-known private colleges. Most people, would guess that the percentage of CEOs bearing Ivy League undergraduate degrees is far higher than the actual figure of only 10 percent. So what, beyond pure intelligence, enabled Parker’s twenty years of great performance? The Maginot line, between those Turtles who achieved huge trading success after working for Dennis and those who failed at trading, came down to an understanding and application of entrepreneurial skills.
The Turtles had to have trading rules, but without entrepreneurial savvy they were doomed. Nancy Upton and Don Sexton, professors at Baylor University who have long studied entrepreneurs, pinpointed traits possessed by Parker and other entrepreneurs:
- Nonconformists — lower need to conform indicating self-reliance.
- Emotionally aloof — not necessarily cold to others, but can be oblivious.
- Sky divers — lower concern for physical harm, but does change with age.
- Risk takers — more comfortable taking it.
- Socially adroit — more persuasive.
- Autonomous — higher need for independence.
- Change seekers — like novel approaches. This is different than 99% of all other people.
- Energetic — higher need and / or ability to work longer.
- Self-sufficient — don’t need as much sympathy or reassurance, but they still need to form networks so self-sufficiency need not be taken to extremes.
We shouldn’t underestimate those nine factors. Dennis turned on the lights and supplied the brokers, the money, and the system. With Dennis out of the picture, the Turtles had to answer for themselves as to whether or not they had the ability and the desire to succeed on their own. Their dilemma, whether they knew it or not at the time, could be solved by how well they applied only those nine traits. Jerry Parker applied the nine traits out of the gate, which some Turtles proved unable or unwilling to do. Parker always had the self-confidence to believe that one day his earnings could rival those of Dennis.
Other Turtles, when seeing firsthand Dennis earn $80 million in 1986, may have thought, “That could never be me.” Few confessed that they just felt lucky to be a Turtle, and when describing their peers some used words like “timid” or “gun shy.” No one ever described Parker like that. Although he didn’t say so directly, he was referencing those nine characteristics of an entrepreneur when he spoke about what it really takes to be a success. He said, “We’re not really interested in people who are experts at the French stock markets or German bond markets. It doesn’t take a huge monster infrastructure—not Harvard MBAs and people from Goldman Sachs.
Loren Pope, author of Colleges that Change Lives, a book extolling the virtues of small liberal-arts colleges, appreciated the deeper meaning in Parker’s wisdom: “The Ivies and other A-league schools have a lot of prestige because they’re supposed to open doors and lead to successful careers. But parents who expect the Ivies to ensure their kids’ success are going to be disappointed. The old-boy network isn’t much good in an economy like this. It’s competence that counts.”
Competence is not easy to acquire. Parker saw life as a Turtle as pretty easy by comparison to his solo operation. He recalled, “Trading for Rich, you got in at 7 a.m. and at 2 p.m. you watched the Cubs game.” But once he became a money manager for clients he had to raise money, hire people, do research, track his performance, and trade. “The degree to which you are successful will be partly because of your buys and sells. But you’re also running a business: hiring, making sure you have good accounting and legal and marketing systems in place.”
Parker’s business acumen came from many sources beyond Dennis. His favorite book, for example, is Selling the Invisible, a modern-day marketing bible. But Parker always brought it back to his training under Dennis: “An honest, humble mentor is the best thing going. Learn from other people. Do the right thing every day, focus on what you’re doing, and let the cards fall where they may.” After the Turtle program ended, Jim DiMaria had no doubts about the cards falling right for Parker: “Jerry wanted to raise a lot of money. He said it from day one.”
Additional Reading on Jerry Parker
- Jerry Parker of Chesapeake Capital: Former Turtle on His Own — Ivy Schmerken
- The Wall Street 100 — Financial World
- The world According to J. Parker” — Chuck Epstein
Jerry Parker has made the most money as a Turtle. His achievement as the best and most profitable student of Richard Dennis is unquestioned. Some “others” might call themselves the most successful Turtle, but Jerry Parker’s track record proves them incorrect. His firm is Chesapeake Capital:
Jerry Parker founded Chesapeake Capital Corporation, a global investment manager headquartered in Richmond, Virginia, in 1988. Chesapeake provides investment and portfolio management services to both private and institutional investors worldwide. Mr. Parker began his portfolio management career in 1983 when he was accepted into the Turtle Program, a select investment training program developed by a successful Chicago portfolio manager. When the program ended in 1988, after almost five years of trading proprietary capital, Mr. Parker decided to continue his professional money management career by forming Chesapeake. Chesapeake?s specialized investment approach offers investors the potential to participate in, and profit from, price trends not typically available through traditional portfolio strategies. Chesapeake?s investment portfolios are not biased toward long or short positions and, therefore, can profit in both rising and falling market environments. Chesapeake actively monitors, and has the potential to invest in, over 90 markets worldwide. These can range from tangible assets, such as coffee, crude oil and gold to global financial instruments, such as German government bonds, U.S. stock indices and global currencies.