Aaron L. Smith prospered on Wall Street without compromising his Christian principles. Today, his faith remains central to the success of his multi-million-pound business. His new book – part Warren Buffett, part Billy Graham – is a match made in heaven, writes Lucy Bryson.
In the money pits of Wall Street, where greed and lust abound, you would be forgiven for thinking that the Seven Deadly Sins are more of a prerequisite than a moral code. How, then, do Christians cope – let alone flourish – in an industry plagued by moral and ethical corruption?
As a former Wall Street veteran, the Christian author and Sunday School teacher Aaron L. Smith is better placed than most to answer. In his new book, Meditations of a Hedge Fund Manager: Inspired Insights on Purpose & Prosperity, he explains how to square an unholy circle. “There is nothing wrong with having money,” he explains. “The problem comes when money has you. Many frequently misquote the Bible and say money is the root of all evil, but the Scripture actually says, ‘the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil’”.
Smith has a lot to thank God for. On 9/11, he off work – at the World Trade Center – with food poisoning. Seven years later, in November 2008, a slipped disk prevented him from checking into the Taj hotel in Mumbai, where at least 30 people are killed by terrorists in a four-day siege. The room he had booked was used by the terror cell for summary executions.
Smith’s path to salvation was a rocky one. By his early 20s, he was living a playboy lifestyle with cash to burn. But with the money, cars and power came alcohol abuse. He spiralled into depression and became dependent on alcohol, which he describes as a “family curse”. Smith beat his addiction after finding God in a Singaporean church; he’d walked into it with a hangover – and with no expectations – and emerged a different person.
Since then, Smith (now 39) has learned how to marry wealth and career aspirations with faith. The two, he says, are not and never have been mutually exclusive. His book acknowledges that people – whether Christians or otherwise – are prone to greed. In a fiercely competitive industry fuelled by income, especially so. “Money is a wonderful servant, but a terrible master”, he explains.
But it is his belief that success and money should not define nor dominate. Meditations of a Hedge Fund Manager is a no-nonsense guide to striking that work/life balance; it explains why professional and financial success should be viewed as a powerful force for good and addresses what he describes as the “false schism” between wealth and Christianity.
Part Warren Buffett, part Billy Graham, Smith writes in a refreshingly unpretentious, accessible style. His underlying aim is to show readers how to become ‘Kingdom Entrepreneurs’ – by applying Biblical teachings in business – and how to enjoy the fruits of labour without compromising faith, morality or family life. Over the course of 12 thought-provoking chapters – or ‘meditations’ – the book offers a Christian view of success in the world of work, with practical insights on how to implement Bible teachings into daily life.
His book also encourages readers to find enjoyment and satisfaction in their work – whatever that work happens to be – and to be grateful for the skills they have been blessed with. It is Smith’s passionate belief that professionals must free themselves from what he sees as the trap of ego, and to follow the teachings of the Bible. In doing so, he says, even those in the most stressful of workplace environments can replace anxiety with a sense of harmony and genuine happiness in every aspect of their life.
As Mumbai Pastor Ryan Waters writes in the foreword, “If you’re looking for a book to guide you through the perils and obstacles of the marketplace, then this book is a must read. Aaron Smith…has masterfully shared the secrets of success discovered through a life submitted to God and Scripture. As a result, this book is a brilliant resource for marketplace professionals. Aaron’s vulnerability and wisdom will be a torch on your pathway to success, not just in business but in life.”
Meditations of a Hedge Fund Manager: Inspired Insights on Purpose & Prosperity is a must-read for the high-rollers of the city. But it’s also a godsend for us other mere mortals.
Meditations of a Hedge Fund Manager: Inspired Insights on Purpose & Prosperity by Aaron L. Smith (Xulon Elite publishing) is out now on Amazon priced £12.50 in paperback and £6.08 as an eBook. For more information about Aaron L. Smith, visit www.aaronsmith.ch
How a Wolf of Wall Street found the Lamb of God: a profile of Aaron L. Smith
September 11th, 2001 is often said to be the day that the world changed. Investment manager and Christian author Aaron L. Smith would certainly agree, as the Wall Street veteran would have been among the 2,606 victims who tragically lost their lives in the terrorist attack had it not been for a sheer twist of fate.
The previous day he had been rushed to hospital, crippled over in pain, after eating what turned out to be some bad sushi. Upon his release the following morning Aaron was heading back to his flat in Lower Manhattan to recuperate rather than, as usual, being hard at work in his office on the 73rd floor of the World Trade Center, when the first plane struck.
Aaron had grown up in a Christian household in South Florida, going to church and Sunday school each week, but he freely admits that by his late teens his belief in God had taken a backseat to the pursuit of a high-flying financial career. With his heart and mind set squarely on Wall Street, he’d already got his first foot on the success ladder while studying for a degree in finance and international business at New York University’s prestigious Leonard N. Stern School of Business. Shifting as an office clerk at Morgan Stanley when his studies permitted, Aaron was quick to become a sales associate with the World Trade Center-based multinational investment bank upon graduation. By his early 20s he was earning a “tremendous income” and living the high life. Understandably, Aaron thought he had everything… until the events of 9/11 started to make him reconsider.
“I’d been doing block trades when my classmates were studying in class, and I didn’t look back,” he says.
“I’d grown up a Christian and had no problem with it, but it was more at the head level than in the heart. I was the prodigal son. All I really wanted was to be on Wall Street living life on the fast lane, travelling the world and experiencing the finest of everything.
“If it hadn’t been for that sushi I would have died in the World Trade Center. It got me thinking that I might have a higher purpose in life. A more important reason to exist than to eat, sleep, process and consume.”
Aaron, now 39, says that this thought kept going through his mind over the following years, slowly getting louder and harder to ignore.
By 2008, Aaron was working as the managing director for the Superfund Group —
a multi-billion dollar systematic global macro hedge fund. In an eerie repetition of events seven years previous, a personal injury again saved him from death. On November 26th that year he had planned to have checked into The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai, India, but was prevented from doing so after suffering a slipped disc in his neck. That same day the hotel was attacked by members of the Lashkar-e-Taiba Islamic terrorist organisation, who set up their base of operations in the wing where Aaron had booked a room.
The niggling feeling that God might have another plan for his life was now resounding louder than ever, but it was in an environment entirely removed from the horrors of gunfire and explosions where Aaron finally realised his “calling”.
For many years he’d been living hard and playing hard but, as he explains, the champagne lifestyle finally caught up with him.
“At first the extreme life mentality was cool. I was rich and successful, but somewhere along the way I became lost,” he says.
“A city career and alcohol go hand in hand, as you are expected to go out with clients for lavish dinners. A decade can go by so quickly when you’re having fun making money and getting drunk.
“But alcoholism was my family’s curse, and I’d fallen into the same trap. It had got to the point where I realised that I couldn’t stop drinking. I recognised that I was going to lose everything — my career, my success, my beautiful fiancée — but I just did not have the willpower to change, even though I knew it would either end with me being killed or someone else hurt.
“I was living in Singapore at the time and got up one morning with a hangover, as usual, and was walking down the street without any plan or goal when I passed a church. I was at the end of my tether by this point and decided to go in, just to sit down and get a moment of quiet.”
Aaron repeated this process several times with different churches, before he entered one where the morning service was just about to begin.
“I decided to stick around for the service and at the end the Chinese pastor told the congregation that if there was anyone among him who needed prayers then they should go to him behind the alter and he would pray with them,” he explains.
“I thought, ‘What have I got to lose?’ and went to the pastor. I confessed that I couldn’t stop drinking and that I was scared because I did not know what to do. I’ll always remember the way he assured me that I was forgiven and loved, and then placed his hands on me and prayed.
“As he did so I was crying, though I didn’t understand why, and I felt what I can only describe as a live spiritual power coming out of his hands.”
Aaron recalls that event as the moment that he was “supernaturally released from his curse”. He says he went from a physical dependence on alcohol to being instantly freed from the inclination to drink.
“Before I walked into that church I would have had the DTs if I’d tried to lay off the drink,” he says. “But after the pastor laid his hands upon me it was like I’d never reached for a bottle. I had no withdrawal symptoms, no cravings and no fears any more. I’ve never looked back.”
Now settled in Zurich, Switzerland, where he lives his wife, Caro, and two daughters, Aaron runs a private US investment management firm which counts independent asset managers, wealth managers, private banks and institutions as clients.
And he says since he has brought Jesus into his life, he couldn’t be happier. Even though he still works in a high-pressure industry where burnout and breakdown is rife, he says that every night he “sleeps like a baby”.
Aaron has devoted much of his time to studies of ancient Biblical texts and gives full credit for his remarkable turnaround to the Holy Spirit and through finding “salvation in the Word of God”.
Though not one to seek the limelight, he says he feels compelled to share his story in the hope of being able to reach, and help, other high-net professionals like him.
“Your typical professional in the city may be wondering how relevant Christianity is to their life when they’ve got the quarterly earnings coming up, a mortgage to pay and food to put on the table. The answer is simple: it’s totally relevant.
“Real faith can move the biggest obstacles and that beam of grace can change even the little things in your life that you didn’t even think needed changing.
“There are many professionals working in the city, earning six or seven-figure wages, who are plagued by anxiety and who are turning to the bottle or popping pills to survive. They will find, like I have, that living through faith is so liberating.
“Of course, there are eternal spiritual ramifications but Christianity is also about dealing with the suffering in the here and now. This is shown through Jesus, who went around Palestine and met the real-world, practical needs of the people he encountered. When he came across a man who was thirsty, he gave him a drink; when he encountered a leper, he cleansed him; and when he saw the sick man, he healed him.
“There’s this false paradox that’s sprung up between Christianity and wealth. I’m not ashamed by my success, but I don’t worship it either. The heart is like a vacuum and will suck in idols like wealth and success, but these are dislodged when Jesus is in your heart. You will come to find that you can handle money without it handling you.
“We can fix the outside world but the gospels fix what’s inside. By following the word of God, even if I didn’t have a penny in my bank account I would still feel wealthy.”
Exclusive Q&A with Aaron L. Smith
Q: You cheated death on 9/11 and again in November 2008 in Mumbai. How did those experiences affect your outlook on your professional and personal life?
A: These experiences produced in me a profound respect for the fragility of life. We tend to take so many things for granted. Actually, we have much less control over our lives than we’d like to think. We will all expire, but will we have lived gallantly and to the fullest? We have lived for anything greater than our temporal desires? Isn’t life more than just eating and drinking? Yes, indeed, it’s a great deal more than that.
Q: You were an alcoholic before finding God. In what other ways has your life changed since letting Him into your heart?
A: You would have to ask my wife! Joking aside, if you were to ask those closest to me how I have changed, they would say the number one area of growth has been patience. It’s not something I’m inclined to innately. My contention is that once one becomes intimate with the Holy Spirit, fruit will come automatically and effortlessly. This is the essence of grace. It’s not about trying harder, working harder, getting a better game plan. No, rather, it is about simply getting in touch with the creative force behind the universe.
Q: What was your main inspiration for writing the book, and what impact do you hope it will have on the lives of those who read it?
A: I understand that I have a unique voice as an investment professional. Some may be more open to what I have to share because I’ve been in the trenches, so to speak. I’ve seen multi-billion-dollar trades go wrong in the blink of an eye. I’ve seen good men and women put out to pasture while the machines take over. I’ve traded massive volumes in just about every liquid financial instrument on the planet: futures, equities, options, fixed income, FX, derivatives, etc. I’ve seen the good bad and the ugly; and I’m still standing.
Expected impact? I fully expect readers to have their lives completely revolutionized 180 degrees. Why? Because I expect no less for them than what I’ve experienced myself: beauty for ashes, grace upon grace, a life of total victory.
Q: The book is mainly aimed at high net professionals – do you think others from less high stakes careers could also take inspiration from it?
A: Undoubtedly. If you have an open mind and open heart, I am confident this book will encourage and empower you to a life of total victory and freedom. The principles herein may be applied in various industries and contexts.
Q: To what extent has your Christian faith helped you to become better in business, and how can Meditations of a Hedge Fund Manager help others achieve similar success?
A: One must not define the success merely by the number of digits to the left of the decimal in your bank balance. Yes, I have been successful by any worldly standard. However, I have friends who in fact have more capital assets than I do, but are not able to enjoy them. And that is really the difference, when we walk with the Lord, the colours become brighter, the smells more lovely, the richness of every day is fantastic. If I had a zero balance in my account, I feel so wealthy in my spirit. That inside out revelation will always tend to manifest itself eventually. That’s why we guard the matters of the heart, for out it streams the issues of life.
Q: When did the concept of the ‘Kingdom Entrepreneur’ begin to emerge? Could you outline the meaning of the term for those that are unfamiliar with it?
A: By the term “Kingdom Entrepreneur” I mean those courageous men and women who see themselves as ambassadors of Heaven. They are aware of the infinite resource under their authority and draw on it by faith to bless common people in everyday situations in extra-ordinary ways. These brave souls are risk takers. They are not content to compartmentalize their faith into a little Sunday box, but rather insist on living by grace though faith Monday through Friday.
Q: Is it really possible for high-earning individuals in high-pressure careers to find the time for work, rest and play?
A: No. It is absolutely not possible. If you have a high-end career, your family and/or your health will certainly suffer. There is simply only so many hours in a day. There is only so much emotional energy one has. Left to ourselves, it is IMPOSSIBLE, but with God, ALL THINGS are POSSIBLE. It is only possible when drawing on grace because God has infinite resource at His disposal. This is the key to the life of total victory. Wholeness, true wealth and peace are available. The only precondition is that we must be humble enough to admit that we don’t have the answers, seek God, and receive His promises by faith. This not theoretical pie in the sky, the blessed, abundant life is my daily experience.