I’m just the pieces of the man I used to be
Too many bitter tears are raining down on me
I’m far away from home
And I’ve been facing this alone for much too long
Too Much Love Will Kill You – Brian May (Queen)
Welcome to “From the Trader’s Desk”.
As the title of this post states, all good things must come to an end, and for now at least, Bobby Axelrod has left the Billions building. The title also plays homage to another one of my very favorite television series “Star Trek: The Next Generation” as the very last episode was titled “All Good Things…” which I still consider two of my favorite hours on television.
In preparing for this post, I read back most of my previous diatribes, and noticed how much Billions, the character of Axe, the Fan Fun community, and my writing and analysis evolved. I also loved re-reading the interaction with our readers. We had many a spirited debate on these pages, and the discussions were always civil, thoughtful, and good fun. A very sincere thank you to each and every one of you who read all of our Billions posts. And a special thank you to Brian Koppelman, David Levien and the entire cast of Billions for being so kind and generous with their time and contributions to our Billions pieces.
The story of how I came to Fan Fun and how “From the Trader’s Desk” was born is quite a funny tale and all the details are here. After just being a spectator and a Billions: Glossary contributor in Season 1, we thought it would be a fun idea for me to write a post every few weeks to explain any “fin speak” in the Season 2 episodes, and give my thoughts from the point of view of a Wall Street lifer. I loved being able to help inform people who didn’t have a financial background on some of the terminology or to give examples to make sense of a storyline through my posts. I tried to pepper in experiences of trades and situations I encountered in my professional life. The best compliments were when someone would comment “now it makes sense!”.
However, something happened along the way; as we got to know Axe, I started seeing similarities between this character and my own life. We both loved trading, we both got our love for trading from gambling backgrounds, both were born of working class environments in New York, both unapologetic Milton Friedman (also born in Brooklyn of working class upbringing) capitalists, and best of all? Both heavy metal junkies! Axe was basically the red headed stepbrother I never had. Posts that were supposed to clear up the financial gobbledygook every few weeks, became weekly, insightful, and put my analytical skills to the test. And being able to write about and take guesses at Axe’s next heavy metal shirt was pure joy.
My very first post here on Fan Fun was “In Defense of Bobby Axelrod” so it only seems right that the last “Trader’s Desk” post should be a fond farewell.
So, this is not necessarily an obituary, but perhaps more of a eulogy to Bobby Axelrod, from someone who related to him like no other character I have ever encountered in books, television, or film.
Friends, traders, analysts, lend me your ears; I come to praise Bobby Axelrod, not to bury him.
Axe was born to be a hedge fund king. As we saw in the very first episode of Billions “The Pilot”, he was different than just the run of the mill Wall Street analyst. He not only knows the game but knows the players. You know he’s a stone-cold trader and deal maker when he creates and funds Axe Capital by placing bets on the tragedy of 9/11. Yes, he may be losing friends and co-workers in the Towers, but he’s got shark eyes and puts all and any emotions to the side. This is business, pure and simple. Maybe letting his emotions get the best of him is why he’s living the life in Switzerland right now. Axe the Shark would have read the trap a little better.
Trading and deal making is who he is. It’s his essence. He once said asking him not to trade is like asking him to give up his “license to breathe.” Even when the government had stopped him from being in the game after the Ice Juice fiasco, he just couldn’t sit on the sidelines. He needed to get his fix so badly he set up “satellite” shops who traded on his ideas. And who could forget when Axe Capital was hit by a cyber-attack and Axe and Wags put on a clinic for the children of how to do business the old fashion way – by phone? You could see how much he was loving it! Doing what he loves at its purest level.
Axe took the skills he learned at the track as a kid and took his gambling ability all the way to Wall Street. How fitting then is it that we open Season 2 “Risk Management” with Axe sitting at Yonkers Raceway. Axe tells Bach “This place made me”. I think he meant the track, but also Yonkers as well. The kid from that working class neighborhood beat the odds, and the doubters, and became a member of the Decas Club!
Axe is never afraid to remind people of his hardscrabble upbringing. He’s proud to have worked his ass off to get where he is, and part of him will always be Bobby from Yonkers. Our first introduction to Axe is he and Lara having pizza at Bruno’s, his old haunt from the neighborhood. Here’s a man with a personal chef, but he still will go back to the old stomping grounds for a slice.
At “The Mike” he’s not embarrassed to let everyone know that unlike most of the people in that room (especially the host) his road to the top was very different.
“Sure, the roads were paved, but I didn’t even have a damn car. Now you see this is where we are different – I don’t pretend I’m an ordinary guy who got lucky. I’m a monster, a carnivorous monster. It was success or oblivion for me”
For Axe, his working-class street cred is what makes him hungry, determined, and not the guy to fuck with. It’s so obvious that even his biggest business rival sees it”
“Yonkers is you. You are Yonkers. You never really left. It’s in your manner, your being.”
Axe might never want to live in Yonkers again, but he knows it’s in his DNA and has played a substantial part in his success.
Another thing that makes Axe different? He embraces being an Unapologetic Capitalist. No need in sugarcoating it. He knows it, and he wants you to know it too.
The highlight of the last 5 seasons of Axeisms will always be his speech at Gordie’s school. Axe waved his Milton Friedman flag high, and it was beautiful.
Axe lets the kids know that it’s good to be hungry and to want to succeed; it’s written in their DNA. He wants them to know that capitalism is the reason for everything they have – would any of these kids’ parents be able to afford the school if they weren’t wealthy or successful?
“It’s populated by people like me who will tear you apart. Nature didn’t select me, I selected myself by harnessing my nature.
“Capitalism harnesses that better than any other economic model on earth. Everything we have is because of capitalism, cause someone had an incentive to get up off their ass, to out invent, out earn. It’s the dirty secret you may not want to hear, but you love the result.”
Who knew Bobby Axelrod was a life coach? It was the best Gordon Gekko impression I’ve ever seen.
Does it surprise anyone that a blue-collar kid with laser sharp trading skills and the love of money would wear heavy metal t-shirts as armor? It didn’t surprise me that he would want to just push it in people’s face that he was not like every other hedge fund titan. Axe choose his shirts (and his songs) to fit the mood:
In saying goodbye to Bobby Axelrod, we also say farewell from the Trader’s Desk. There are so many things I will miss about Billions and my Friday posts.
I will miss writing about a show I truly loved and about the world of hedge funds, that I love even more.
I will miss trying to predict Axe’s next metal t-shirt (and being right), as I just don’t see Mike Prince sporting an Iron Maiden or Judas Priest shirt anytime soon.
I will miss finding relevant metal lyrics to start my posts.
I will miss the electric scenes between Axe and Chuck, the friendship of Axe and Wendy, and Axe and the former Axe Cappers wheeling and dealing.
Most of all, I’ll miss all the interaction and discussions I have had with the readers of these posts; the writers and actors of such a great show, and Damianista’s in-depth and insightful postmortems. Who’s going to explain all those pop culture references now?
And finally, a very heartfelt thank you to Damianista. She is a tremendous leader of our rag-tag group, and her dedication to this blog is remarkable. Her support and encouragement really let me be myself in “From the Trader’s Desk” and her compassion and kindness during my illness will never be forgotten. I am extremely grateful to be able to call her my friend.
This is Lady Trader signing off “From the Trader’s Desk”. See you on the trading floor!