May 21, 2024

Jefferies CEO Richard Handler on Bad-Mouthing by Rivals

  • Richard Handler, chief exec of Jefferies, wrote 100 things he wished he knew before becoming CEO.
  • ‘Larger competitors will denigrate, belittle and badmouth you every chance they get.’
  • In an email with Insider, Handler explained how naysayers can be a source of “motivation.”

Richard Handler, CEO of investment bank Jefferies, says he knows he’s doing his job right when larger rivals start hating on his bank. 

In a post on Instagram, Handler offered 100 things he wished he had known before becoming Jefferies’s CEO in 1990. Among them was a tip to his younger self to embrace the haters, especially if the badmouthing comes from larger competitors.

“Larger competitors will denigrate, belittle and badmouth you every chance they get. This means you are doing something really right,” he said in tip No. 86. 

That was followed by another apparent dig at his bulge bracket rivals:

“It is particularly fun when larger competitors demean your firm while you increasingly hire their best people.”

Of course, Handler admits in his advice that embracing the hate is often easier said than done. 

“No matter what anyone tries to tell you, it is personal,” he said in tip No. 51. “And that is ok and as it should be.”

Handler elaborated on taking things personally in an email with Insider. He said: “When you care as much as I do, and our people do, it’s hard not to take great offense. Then I just think that we are all working really hard to accomplish something we believe in and the naysayers are often unhappy people who aren’t on a mission they are proud of. Eventually instead of bringing you down, it gives you a little extra motivation. I wish it didn’t have to be this way, but the world is complicated. That said, I’m not complaining. I’d rather be me and our firm would rather be us.”  

He has become one of the most active Wall Street CEOs on social media. On his Instagram, for example, you’ll not only find posts about Jefferies events and stock exchange summits, but more often you’ll see pictures of him at the beach with family, playfully photoshopped into a Puma ad with Selena Gomez, or sitting courtside with Kylie Jenner and Travis Scott.

He also told Insider that he posts all of his own social media content. “Everyone asks if I manage my own social media, and for better or worse, the answer is yes. It takes very little time, which is probably why it is more on the sloppy side, but to me the content is more important than the form.”

“I think by sharing a small part of my private life, it lets people know what we stand for and who we are,” he told Insider in an email.

Handler has been at global investment bank Jefferies for more than 33 years, 23 of which have been as its chief executive. He stepped into the role at just 39, when Jefferies was almost exclusively a riskless cash equities trading boutique with about $7 million of annual net earnings, Handler said. Today, the firm has more than 40 offices globally, about 5,300 employees, and a $60 billion balance sheet. 

In his Instagram post, he said he’s made a lot of missteps in that time. When asked by Insider for more specifics, he said: “I’ve literally made every mistake in the book including hiring a small number of the wrong people, doing deals I wish we didn’t, missteps on culture and strategic priorities, dealing with false short attacks, etc.”

He said not to focus on the mistakes, but on the overall growth. “Nothing is ever perfect and there is always room for improvement and if you surround yourself with the right partners, together build the right culture, focus on the right priorities (people and clients), and protect your financial foundation, over the long term you can help create a very special company.”  

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