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Episode #5

Achieving Success with Brian Gelber

Leadership that Cultivates Peak Performance

Brian Gelber (00:00.27)
You're asking me questions which are way outside my scope, by the way.

Jessica Grossman 
Welcome, welcome, welcome my pod fam to this week's high performance episode of To Millennial, where we're going to talk about all things success, leadership, learning, legacy, and who better to do that than the one, the only Brian Gelber. Yes, I said it. Brian Gelber is joining us today on the podcast.

Brian, for those of you who don't know, he brings a very unique perspective because he emphasizes really this balance between striving for excellence and maintaining our overall wellbeing. And he is from the trading industry, right? The most high performance industry that there is. And so what he does is he really shows us that these two elements make us more successful as people, as traders, as leaders. Full disclosure though,

Brian is my uncle. He was also my boss when I was a trader and I traded for around four years. But don't worry, the markets really don't follow the normal rules of nepotism. And while Brian definitely frustrates me all the time, especially when I work for him, with all that, you know, unasked for advice that uncles give to their nieces, he actually is as I get older, I appreciate him. And he is one of the main reasons I do what I do. And I went into this field.

Because through trading and maybe begrudgingly listening to all that advice over the years and actually incorporating it into my life, I really learned this deep value about self -care and that to be my best, I have to feel my best. And this doesn't mean putting on fancy clothes because you all know, I don't wear fancy clothes. I don't do that. But for me, it was really about sleeping well, eating right, working out.

and effectively coping with stress. And what this really involved was focused sprints when the markets were hot and strategic patients when they were slow. It was about knowing when do you rest, when do you recover, when do you stay up all night to really seize that opportunity in the markets. Because ultimately, it was really about knowing myself and figuring out the best way for me, for me to perform at my highest level. And this really wasn't,

Jessica Grossman (03:12.142)
always my approach to trading in life. Like I wish it had been. I used to think high performance was really all about working harder, pushing further and striving for more. But I realized that the more I pushed, the more I suffered, particularly internally. And what I mean by internally, I mean, my self -talk became really brutal. My confidence then was crushed. And ultimately my results plateaued. It became apparent that the harder I tried to get better,

The worst I actually did, which doesn't seem to go together. This made me realize my life was really focused on one movement, which was solely striving. I was really unable to see the present. To be truly at my best, what I really needed was I needed to let go, a new kind of movement. I needed to accept what is, and this was a really painful process.

And this is really what ultimately led me to my career in coaching high performers, leaders, teams, because I believe that being holistic makes us better at what we do. And in today's episode, we have the ultimate person to do that. The ultimate trader, teacher, coach, and leader. Because Brian has spent decades at the forefront of high performance in the high stakes world of trading. It doesn't get higher than that. Today, he owns Gelberg Group.

a trading company that has been successful for 42 years. And Brian transitioned from being one of the greatest traders on the floor to actually building a profitable and enduring trading firm. So before this interview to kind of prepare and get inspired, I actually reread Brian's well -known interview in Market Wizard. And this book really comes before Brian transitions from a trader into a leader. And so one of the reasons I wanted to do this interview is because I wanted to bring a more nuanced approach to Brian's legacy. That's more than just his ability to trade and be an amazing trader, but also his ability to nurture and to develop young talent into top traders. And this is really a testament to his leadership and his vision. So how did he do it? Well, let's jump into the interview. So welcome to the podcast.

Jessica Grossman (05:32.622)
Brian Gelber, I'm very excited to have you here today. Yeah, so yeah, so most people know you or I don't know, maybe not, but most people know you from your interview from the national bestsellers Market Wizards by Jack Schwager in 1989. Just remember, that was two years after I was born. But are you surprised that Market Wizards legacy has endured over the years?

Brian Gelber

People want to know how someone like me got lucky enough, or fortunate enough, or was shrewd enough to thrive in the pioneering stage of the trading business. And I'd like to read about success stories that are grouped together. And so I think in the trading space, which is where I've thrived over my career, when you read Market Wizards, you see a bunch of successful traders, and not just successful by money but successful in lots of different ways, whether it be in how they viewed pioneering in different asset classes, how they actually made their money, how they dealt with issues and what type of fundamental challenges that they overcome to succeed. So I guess in the end, I'm not that surprised. I'm certainly excited about it. And it's pretty good for my grandkids to be able to read about that when the time comes.

Jessy Grossman

What are the things that you've learned from trading that you've been able to apply in your life.

Brian Gelber

So one of the things that I always I lived through in the 80s when I was really thriving and I was in a pioneering stage of the trading arena. I remember I would go out to dinner with my friends and I would say to myself so in a silly way. People don't understand the kind of war. I'm battling through every day. And what I came to understand once I grew up enough and got over myself a little bit more was that everybody has their own individual war in their lives that they overcome to make their lives better, balanced. And so to me, that's sort of one of the things that the foundation of how I've evolved into who I am. I think.

Jessica Grossman (07:56.91)
For me, when I talk to people about the beginning of my career and starting as a trader, and one of the things I like to tell people about is I learned very early on from working with you how important not just work is, but life is. And that when someone was having a bad day or they were having a hard week, when they would go to you, you would ask them and you would say, are you eating? Are you sleeping? Are you working out? It was like, you, I think, understood. that having this idea of well -being was really important to perform in.

 

Brian Gelber

Understanding that life goes on is one of life's true discoveries. And I can still remember as I'm building my successes through failures and successes. always felt like didn't do a good enough job of one of the balancing my life in terms of family or in terms of my kids, in terms of my work. And yet at the same time, if people, if I talked to other people, they would say, wow, you're so committed to the things you do. And so I started understanding that having people understand that an earlier age, that the value of living a more balanced life actually makes you better at each thing you want to do matters. And when you're in your teens, 20s and 30s, every success and every failure seems so much more important than it is. And so the idea about learning life's balance is something that I think I can offer and articulate, which allows people to accelerate their learning curve on how to make their life better, more productive more efficient and more well -rounded. And obviously as I've aged, I've gotten better at expressing, you know, these are important parts of how you really perform at a high level. And I want to emphasize trading is a high performance endeavor. I've lived in it my whole adult life. I've loved it. And staying in that high performance arena and getting better at it, includes understanding it, analyzing it, and so I've done a pretty good job of constantly studying and adjusting and adapting to how do I be a high performance player and how do I live in the high performance arena.

 

Jessy Grossman

I love that. You know, I don't know if you've read a lot of the research and what comes out now. There's so much talk about taking risk and learning from failure and...

I think I always thought I was like, well, of course, because when you come from the trading world, it's like, that is the base of your career. So, what advice would you give or what have you learned from that?

 

Brian Gelber

So, I like to say to people, anyone, this is the first time you've done something? not going to be very good at it, no matter how much you want to be good at it. And they look at me like I'm crazy. So, then I say to them, so let me ask you this question in your life and all the things you've done the first time you did it, did you do it better or worse than the third time you did it or the fifth or the eighth time you've done it? And of course, the natural answer is, well, I was better as I did it more often. So, in my experiences, when I first started trading, I hate losing, let me start with that, and I hated losing as well in the beginning. So, the idea about understanding you fail on your way to success or you have setbacks on your way to success, however you want to categorize it, it's a normal part of it all. Getting youngsters, and youngsters would be people in their 20s and 30s, maybe even in their 40s now as I view it, getting them to understand this is normal, life goes on, and once you've had setbacks thousands of times and noticed that hey, for every setback, there is something to learn and a way to rally and make yourself that much a little bit better. When you think back on your career, what do you think has been your best failure? If there was one, I would always talk about it, but I'm sorry, Jess, there's been too many to count. I can tell you one quick story, which I think people will find entertaining.

I was maybe eight years into my trading career and I had a particular moment where I was trading bigger than I should have and bigger than my norm. And I got run over by the market, which means I was the wrong way on the market and losing plenty of money, you know, seven figures plus in a very particular moment.

And in the market, sometimes the market gets locked where you can't trade it anymore. Here I am the wrong way, losing substantial amounts of my own money, not somebody else's money. And now the market isn't trading anymore because everybody wants to go the way that I'm the wrong way. So I think the market's going to go down and the market's going up and everybody wants to buy. And I'm looking and I'm saying to myself, my goodness, what are my choices here?
And remember now there's nothing happening. Markets are not trading and I'm stuck. So in my own mind, I devised the game plan to try to survive the day versus make back what I had lost or come back with a way to thrive that day. I was saying, how do I minimize what I've done so it doesn't destroy me? And I got lucky in the market, calmed down over the next hour and a half, and I ended up cutting my losses in half and live to quote fight another day. That's just one simple example of a big failure that woke me up to these things can happen to anyone, including you. And in that moment, in those moments of the unknown, how did I react? How much poise could I maintain? It was really all helpful for my future career as a trader.

Jessy Grossman

And how did you apply that to what happened next? So, take the situation where it appears dire. You're allowed to say to yourself, I need to just make the right decisions. Nothing to do with money, nothing to do with your ego at the moment. Just make the right decisions and do the summary and conclusions about what you could do different or better after. And so in the heat of battle, you make the best decision you can make.

You know, in this day and age, mindfulness is such a hot term and this is a critical form of mindfulness. Get to know yourself, build tools that make you strong in times when it's easy to be weak. I preach it when I interview people who come and try to join the firm about an important part of what the trading business is really all about.

Jessy Grossman

Looking back on your interview now, the thing that I think caught me off guard that I felt like was a theme in the interviews was your ability to learn. Like, I feel like in everything you talk about, you're like, I had no idea what I was doing. I just like went in there and tried it out and kind of stunk for a while. And then I learned how to do it. And I think one of the reasons I went back and got my master's in learning was because, you know, it is actually something that you actually have a passion for and a love for. And so I just would love to learn to know a little bit more about where that comes from and how what is that? Is that the reason why you're so great at what you do?

 

Brian Gelber

It cracks me up because I'm not I've never liked school. But I would say to you, I'm a lot more interested in analyzing situations, both in a let's call it a near term a tactical situation as well as a long -term or more strategic situation. Those challenges are exciting to me. Hence, I'm always studying what happened before, what other people think. But I would say at the same time, if you said to me, go read this textbook, I would go over all my eyes and go, no, I just don't like doing that. I appreciate the fact that you're saying that I seem to be a pretty good student. I wish I was better, but -.

I'm a student in very specific ways versus a all -encompassing, very curious person about life. I'm not, hate to say it, I'm not that person.

Jessy Grossman

So I think it's interesting, you bring up a really interesting point here because when we hear the word learning, we immediately think about classroom and training. And in reality, like that is such a small part of this idea of learning. And in reality, all the things you're talking about being an analyst of situations is the core part of learning. Learning is about taking in information in our environment and being able to then, you know, be able to use that information, make sense of that information in a way that then you can apply the next time. It doesn't always have to do with reading a book and then using those facts. And I think that we get it wrong about learning. And I think our education system to a certain degree also gets it wrong about learning. I think like on this subject, it's kind of interesting because, you know, in your market wizards, You know, one of the things I wrote down that stood out to me is you said it's not about knowledge, right? It's more about you have to know yourself and you have to know, you know, how you put that knowledge to use. And so, again, I think that kind of wraps up this part of the conversation really well, which is learning doesn't just have to be about what you read in the books, but it's really also about knowing yourself and putting that knowledge to work within the situation, which you are quite good at.

Brian Gelber

To me, that's, you know, look, when I reflect on I am and who I'm not. One of my big strengths is reading people and understanding what they're, I want to say going through. My mom used to say,Brian, you've got ESP, how do you know? It more has to do with how people think and the consistency of how they think and appreciating what

what's going through their mind and what they prioritize. Look, everybody has something that's world -class in them, everyone. Mine is I really read people well.

 

Jessy Grossman

Tell me a little bit about your transition away from being a trader and stepping into a leadership position.

Brian Gelber

Stylistically, I've always been a leader. When I was a successful athlete, I kept wondering why I had the chance to be a player because I was so little. And as I reflect and hear from my ex coaches and they would tell me how fully it was always like having a coach on the floor. And so that leadership quality that just was sort of natural in me. Look, I grew up with eight brothers, nine boys. And so I had four older, four younger.

And I got along with the four older and the four younger and I was a compromiser. I understood personalities well from having so many personalities in the same household. Those types of things sort of fostered who I became as a person. And so my leadership tendencies are pretty instinctive. How I lead has been an evolution. So there's a difference between just being a leader and a difference between how you lead. So let's not confuse the two. I would say to you,

I've been a leader since I am who I am. It hasn't changed very much. I would tell you that I listen to people, but I'm very decisive in my own mind and live with the results of the decisions I make. And that has made me a strong decision maker. Hence, since my decisions seem to have helped me thrive, made me appear to be a strong leader. So how has your leadership style evolved and why did it?

Well, you have to start with instinctively, how do you do it? And then you look at the results and say, how could I have done that better? And I had a lot of mentors. Look, my key mentor was my brother Frank, who is older and wiser than I am. I was more the, let's go do it. Let's charge ahead. And he was much more about, let's think about it. Let's think about the...

the results and things we haven't thought about initially, that taught me over time that, hey, you can't just be impulsive. You can't just be instinctive. You have to take the time to think through how does this decision affect not just the actual outcome, but also the people involved in it, all of the many, many repercussions. And over time, in my experiences, I practiced and I got better and I think I was a very good listener. And so that's helped me to really understand.

How do you lead? How do you be an effective leader? And remember, each generation that you're leading is very different from the one before. And so you evolve to be capable of successfully leading each generation. My generation, you told them. Your generation, which is the millennial generation, you have to listen. You have to make sure that you've included what they want to say and what they think. And then you make a decision and

if you can recurrently don't include them, they let you know that they're an important part of the process. And so that would be an example of two different generations have been four or five in my career that I've worked with. And so how I lead has a lot to do with the people that I'm leading. And to me, that's that's actually made me a better manager of people. And then I've taken the time to say,

How do I lead this group? How do I do a good job with them? And to tell you the truth, I'm still doing it today. So

 

Jessica Grossman (22:53.486)

what do you think the value of leadership is in an organization?

 

Brian Gelber
So let's use baseball manager of a professional baseball team as an example. The Cubs just brought in Craig Council over David Ross. David Ross really got along with his players, made decisions that were in the best interest of the team and the players. And yet the Cubs said, Craig Council would be a better manager for where we're at and where we'll go. And what does Craig Council have that David Ross doesn't have? I don't really know, but the...

Reality, as they say, his ability to bring out the best and people, whether you are a utility player or a 330 superstar, is at the highest level in the game. And so...

Being good manager has to do with being good leader has to do with being a therapist in some ways and bringing out the best in people, understanding when people are down, bringing them up, understanding when they give them a break, putting them in a position to succeed versus in a position to fail. I mean, I could go on and on, but I've come to the conclusion that the values of being a manager, quote, leader, manager, they're endless and they're as much as you want to make and take from it, to tell you the truth.

Jessy Grossman

What's your favorite part of, you know, after all these years of leading Gelber Group, what is your favorite part about it?

Brian Gelber

I get great pleasure out of someone who I see is talented and has to find their way to get to the point where they can show their skills and talent.

give you, I think, a quick example. There's a Gal at the firm who started in the very basic part of the technology team, which is the support group. She now is the manager and runs our SysOps group. It took her, I want to say, four to six years. She was plenty smart enough, plenty talented enough, just had to have
enough, what's the word, experiences and get a little more mature and she's thrived into this really special, talented person that people look up to. That's my greatest pleasure. And you know, on the trading side, which is a similar story, we hire a lot of youngsters and we train them from scratch. And when they thrive, it's fabulous because all you're really doing is taking someone with talent or skill, develop skill and natural talent and you kind of put them in positions, teach them and then put them in positions where they can thrive. Those are thrilling to me and so fulfilling and that's one reason why I stay in the business. It's so fulfilling.

 

Jessy Grossman

So what kind of culture or environment is most important for you to create these days?

Brian Gelber

I'm proud of Gelber Group's culture. I can't say that enough. If you're young, a young can be 22, 23, 25.

So not me. I'm not considered young anymore. Well, you are, but it depends. You're like really old in some ways and yeah, but you're still young. We say to them, and I think I did this with you as well, we say to them, you go ahead and do things that maybe you don't get a chance to do in any other firm. And...

Do your best, you're going to make mistakes, and our job is to guide you along as you make mistakes, try to see them before you make them, but let you make mistakes, and that's okay. That's one of the core features of our culture, providing respect, providing opportunity at all ages, which is more, you know,
what you have to offer and yet you get the opportunity to offer it. So in our culture, at our firm, I believe we do provide plenty of respect for people and who they are. We do our best to help them bring out their best and put them in positions to succeed. Peter principle, we try to avoid that happening at our firm. It does happen. Can you explain what the Peter principle is to anyone who doesn't know? Not everyone knows it. You know, we don't want to put people, we don't want to keep moving them up the ladder until they're not good at what they do. We want to keep them in positions where they can thrive. And putting people in positions to succeed is a big part of actually being successful, being a good leader and having a good culture. We do that well. I'm proud of that.

 

Jessy Grossman

So what have you learned about or from the next generation after like all these years of mentoring that?

Brian Gelber

If you know me well, I listened to youngsters and I learned from youngsters and youngsters start at age five or three and they go all the way up to age 60, let's say. You can learn from the generations that are coming up, how they think about things, their priorities. And I would tell you that in this particular generation, my generation, we wanted to make a lot of money. That was that simple.

This generation has so many more ways that make them feel success and failure, and that can include being charitable, that can include caring about other people. Their lives are far more balanced than my generation. And for that, I love to say, you know, look, you know, my son, he's a better person than I am, because he cares about people more than I.

did as I was going through trying to get to where I've where I am. It's the same thing with my grandkids where their ideas of succeeding is just so different. So specifically, what have I learned from, let's say, the current generation? More balanced to their lives than maybe what my generation had. And if I look my generation versus my parents' generation, they might say the same thing about me, that my life was more balanced than theirs was. So I don't think this is a brand new thing. I think this is sort of what always goes on between generations. You had to describe your millennial leaders in one sentence. Millennial leaders are progressive, progressive. What does that mean to you? I knew you'd ask that question. They are thoughtful. They are forward looking. They are willing to be mentored. and be good students about being mentored. They are motivated, they are driven, but their priorities are not so one -dimensional. And for that, I'm excited about it.

Millennials are so much more knowledgeable at the margin. Their ability to know where to go and find information, how to consider questions, different ways of solve problems. They're just, it's more complete than my generation. But my impression is millennial leaders are, they are the next generation. It's where we're going. And that includes my trading firm. And to me, that includes the country as well.

Jessy Grossman

What do you want your legacy to be as a leader in the proprietary trading space? A well -known trader, well -known businessman?

Brian Gelber

I don't think people remember for very long is the problem. So in some ways it doesn't matter to me, I guess I would say. Let's assume they remember for 20 years. That's still just not a very long time. But for me personally, you know, I just want to be true to myself. I want the firm's culture to be continued where as a firm, we're not trying to be the biggest. We're trying to be the firm that people want to work at and stay working for because we offer them their best opportunity to become everything they can be. You want people to get to their ceiling, understand where their ceiling is and get to it. We want to be the firm that always tries to do our best to help you get there. That's real.

Jessy Grossman

So does this mean that you want your legacy to live on through your firm?

Brian Gelber

I have good kids, so that's already happening. And I hope that they're my grandkids take the same approach to how life works that my kids have done. And so, yeah, that part of it goes without saying that, yes, of course, I want my legacy to live on through my family. What do you want your family to remember about you?

Well, you want to lead your family in a way that they have they live good lives, full lives, demand of themselves to be all they can be and and to be good to other people. So, I mean, a good way to maybe emphasize that. I was talking to my oldest daughter, April, yesterday, and I said to her, do you ever remember mom and I telling you asking you what your grades were? Have you done your homework? And she said, no, you never really did that. What you did do, dad was you wanted to know if I was treating my teammates right and whether I was what I was doing with my friends. I said yes. Our view of our lives and how we wanted you to live your lives was mostly about understanding people and caring about them. So I guess that's the way we want it to be passed along to others to our grandkids. To care about care about people care about the people around you be a good teammate. Absolutely, absolutely. And a good friend and a good family member.

Jessica Grossman (33:09.39)
You can see here, you've got this participation certificate. Wonderful participation certificate, because everyone deserves a certificate. Or a trophy for being on the Two Millennial podcast. We all deserve trophies. We gotta uplift our self -esteem some way. And this certificate is for you to hang on your wall besides all your other many accolades.

Jessy Grosman

As we conclude today's episode, I'm actually excited to introduce a framework that I feel like embodies the essence of sustainable high performance, which is an approach I've actually called SOAR to help you really reflect after this podcast on your own performance. When we visualize soaring, we often picture beauty and that sensation of kind of floating effortlessly. Yet what's frequently overlooked is the meticulous strategy and purpose that underpins each

of these graceful flights. So let's delve into what we mean by SOAR or SOAR. The S part of SOAR is about strength. Brian Gelber really emphasizes in the interview that everyone possesses something exceptional within them. He eloquently puts it this way, quote, look, everybody has something that's world class in them, end quote. What that means is it's really about us uncovering and harnessing what our innate strengths are, and building tools that really fortify us in those moments when we are vulnerable, as he did when he was losing. So we do this by really understanding ourselves deeply and leveraging our unique talents appropriately. The second part of SOAR is the O, and that stands for optimization. This can easily be confused for efficiency, but that's not what we're talking about when we talk about optimization within this context. Here I'm talking about it from a perspective of embracing continuous growth, continuous learning. It's about analyzing our experiences and channeling that knowledge into purposeful action to realize that goal or that vision. Sometimes this might actually entail efficiency, but other times it might demand something more like creativity, which means we're wasting time, but we're creating something more innovative and different.

Jessica Grossman (35:31.374)
The A in SOAR stands for agility. While we might think of optimization as maybe moving us forward, like how do we get forward to whatever that goal is, agility is like moving side to side as things shift and change. Really that lateral movement. It's about swiftly adapting to shifting and changing circumstances. And I think most importantly, it's about making sound decisions. And this requires,

that mental and emotional resilience, that capacity to rebound from setbacks and manage stress. And the R and sort of the last cornerstone piece is this idea of resonance. And this might be a term you haven't actually heard a lot about, but I actually really like it because for me, it brings this like bigger idea in openness, expansiveness, I think to this model. That goes well with the idea of like optimization.

And what resonance really means in this is that we're aligning our actions with our core values and our aspirations and fostering some that harmony across aspects of our life from work, relationships, connecting with people to our wellbeing. And I think the most important part of this is our ability to recalibrate when we stray from our path. Ryan Gilbert's leadership in performance philosophy,

I think is really unconventional and progressive, especially for his time. And I think that we need to really take a lot of these views of success and try to apply them into other areas of work other than trading. Because it's about recognizing that a balanced life isn't a detractor from excellence, but rather an enhancer. Just imagine if we all really believed that.

He happily even says this in the interview quote, the value of living a more balanced life actually makes you better at each. So let's all commit trying to get to that new heights but doing it with grace, fulfillment, connection.

 

Briang Gelber
In other words, that to me was a flaw is that in my examples, they were all over the place on different experiences in my life. And it's better to have the experiences be all centered around either trading or family or outside stuff.

Jessy Grossman

I like that there were a lot of different ones. I think it's the whole point of the show is like we are people, balanced people. Yeah.

We are balanced people in that examples show up in different ways, and especially when it comes to leadership and performance, we're no longer one -dimensional individuals who just have work and give work examples. We are no longer single domain individuals. Which is a big change in generations. There's part of you, as I should have said on your question about how millennials are going to change my business. Damn it. Well, here we go. We're still working.

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