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If you have a pulse and own a stock, you probably have seen Peter Tuchman’s face. But a household name he ain’t.
Tuchman’s histrionics play out on the stage of the New York Stock Exchange, where the 60-year-old trader — “I’ve been 55 for five years” — is known as the most photographed person at the NYSE.
Tuchman is the money set’s Rorschach test. His facial expressions mirror the aspirations and disappointments of investors the world over: Anguish. Anticipation. Desperation. Triumph.
You can spot him on CNBC roaming around in the background, the white-haired, blue-jacketed trader, personal computer in hand. He is all over the Internet and news sites as the background prop to a thousand stock market stories.
Tuchman got his volatility fix this past week. The Dow Jones industrial average bounced like flubber over six sessions, tossing around trillions of dollars in wealth. We talked to him by phone while he patrolled the floor of the NYSE. The conversation was edited for length and clarity.
Q: Why are you the most photographed person on the stock exchange?
A: If you look at my pictures, I have that Einstein-y look. I have the sort of wild look that could disseminate an up-400 day or a down-400 day.
My face describes emotion, excitement or distraught madness. And it’s 100 percent genuine. The stress and excitement of a volatile day on Wall Street is pure, honest emotion.
Q:What's there to love about volatility?
A: Excitement, fear. I’m in the middle of the storm on a daily basis.
A trader likes market movement. It’s like a basketball game. Some are more boring. You want excitement. It’s what you want in a daily confrontation between humans and their money — excitement, anxiety, movement.
The floor of NYSE is the greatest office on Earth. It has energy, people. These are hallowed floors. It’s 120 years old, and every president, every head of state, celebrities have walked this floor. What goes on on this floor will affect world finance on a daily basis. And I’m in the middle of it. I love that. And once my face became what it’s become, I love that part of it, too.
This is a perfect outlet for my personality.
Q: Do you take your job home?
A: What goes on between 9 and 4 is over at 4. My mother’s best advice was, “The key to a long and happy marriage is never go to bed angry.” The slate is wiped clean every morning. It’s not like I’ve perfected this art of not having a down day. Things haunt me all night long. I’m not perfect. I can be wrong. I can lose my temper. I can have a fight with co-workers. At the end of the day, I found out how much I made or how much I lost. Was it a green day or a red day?
Q: How do you manage your emotions during the heat of trading?
A: I thrive off of chaos, off of emotions. Some people love to stroll into work, have coffee, sit at their desk, read a paper and get going. I’m like a thoroughbred horse. I come out of the gate running. I love to do this. This isn’t a job for me. It’s not about how much money I’m making. I just took some 13-year-old kids around the floor. If there’s any message it’s find something you love to do.
I am lucky I found it.
Q: What is it that you do?
A: I am the eyes and ears and the conduit for trading and point of sale of buying and selling stocks for customers.
It’s very simple. If Grandma in Kentucky wants to buy 100 shares of XYZ company, she calls a broker at Charlie Schwab, Merrill Lynch or JPMorgan and says, “I want to buy 100 shares of XYZ.” The broker generates the order. It gets sent to a machine on the floor of the NYSE. That machine will route the order to me as a broker into my handheld, which I then route to the market maker and the order enters into the public market. I don’t have to talk to a person.
Q: If you don't have to talk to anyone, why are you there?
A: Electronic markets are all fine and good, to a point. What makes what I do so powerful and meaningful and still so important is the human factor on the floor of the stock exchange. We have brokers, human beings, market makers, the human safety net set in place to protect against unruly volatility, artificial intelligence. People see us here and they know a human being is watching over their money and their market. That’s what makes a difference. That’s why I’m still here.
Q: What's the most stock you ever traded in one order?
A: I traded 10 million shares once. In any given day, I may trade a couple of hundred million dollars of stocks.
Q: You buy and sell all day. Do you have advice for mom-and-pop investors?
A: Don’t panic. Hang in there. Take a reasonable profit and do not wait for an unreasonable loss. If you can ring the cash register, do so. But don’t panic when markets go up and down.
Q: What has this week been like?
A: The last two days have been incredibly exciting, unusual and relatively crazy on the volatility. Today [Wednesday] I got in at 9:08 in the morning. We set up our machines and get a premarket look on what’s happening.
Q: Do you own stock?
A: I have never owned a share of stock in my life. I do not eat my own cooking. Funny thing about money. If I started to worry about my own profit and loss, I would be less concentrated on my customers’ well-being.
And I also have two children in college, so I don’t have any money to buy stocks.
Q: You must have some investments.
A: I invest in my family and my kids. My kids will graduate college without any debt. That is my investment.
Q: How did you get the job?
A: My father is a doctor who had a patient who ran a brokerage here on the floor, Cowen and Company. I got a summer job as a teletypist on the floor of the exchange. It was May 23, 1985.
I was a clerk, a broker. In a 2½ -year span, I went from the bottom of the rung to the top of the rung. It was a job that was performance, involved relationships with people, quick with numbers, fast thinking on your feet. While a customer gives you direction on how to execute stocks, the information is ever-changing with markets, dollars and different indices with headlines. I can train you to be a good poker player, but when you get to the table, everything changes.
You have to think on your feet.
There used to be a lot of screaming and yelling. It used to be “open outcry.” That kind of posturing is a little less necessary today.
Q: So you weren't exactly trained for this?
A: I graduated from the University of Massachusetts, where I studied economics and agriculture. I came to New York City to get an MBA in business. I opened a record store on Bleecker Street, ran a music production business for two years, then worked in West Africa for a Norwegian oil company called Saga.
Q: You don't come from a Wall Street family?
A: My family was not in finance. My parents are Holocaust survivors. Both were in camps. They met in a deportation camp after the war. My father is a doctor and still alive at 97. He retired four months ago after practicing internal medicine from 1950 to 2017. My mother passed away four years ago. They came to the U.S. in 1949.
My father and 30 survivors applied to Heidelberg University to go to medical school. He was part of the first group of Jewish students allowed in a German medical school in post-Nazi Germany. My parents stayed there until 1949, finished his degree and came to the U.S. for residency and an internship at Bellevue Hospital.
Q: What have you learned from your job?
A: Never get emotional about money as a trader. It’s why I don’t own stock. I also learned the greatest job you can have is find something you love to do.
Q: How are you paid?
A: I am an independent commission trader. I am paid by the share for every trade.
Q: How has technology changed the job?
A: With the advent of computers and algorithms and new technologies, order flows don’t come from the phone. It’s being sent automatically. The interaction in the marketplace is being done electronically now. The Nasdaq is all electronic.
Q: How are your instincts? Can you feel a flash crash coming?
A: What’s going on in the last few days is not a crash. A flash crash is a super-high-percentage move. This is a correction. It’s a pause. It’s a short-term sell-off. It can be a five-minute experience. On Tuesday, we had a flash crash that lasted eight minutes. The market went from down 500 points to down 1,500 and rallied back 900 points in four minutes.
Q: What does one do in a flash crash?
A: The best thing to do is step away for a moment, watch it happen and then get back involved. It’s like hitting black ice. You can drive on a sunny day. Then you drive in 65 inches of snow, you know the potential for slipping, sliding, skidding. But once you hit black ice, you start sliding sideways and you have no control. Nothing you can do to stop it. That’s a flash crash. It’s electronically catalyzed. It has a mind of its own and usually recovers.
Q: It sounds like you're living the dream.
A: It hasn’t always been that way. Over 32 years of my career on Wall Street I’ve had financial, spiritual, emotional challenges and pitfalls — as anyone would. The floor of the NYSE never gave up on me. My family never gave up on me.
I’m a survivor. I’ve been very resistant to the technology, forced to reinvent myself multiple times in my career on Wall Street. The message I’m sending out is never give up on your dreams.
I have a son who works with me on the floor of NYSE, Benjamin. He’s a broker and that’s for me the greatest endorsement of my life and my career.
Q: Do you dream about stock trading?
A: I dream about sitting on the beach on a sunny day in the Caribbean. The day I start dreaming about stocks is the day I should retire.
Thomas Heath is a local business reporter and columnist, writing about entrepreneurs and various companies big and small in the Washington metropolitan area. Previously, he wrote about the business of sports for The Washington Post’s sports section for most of a decade. Follow