This post is coming to you from midtown Manhattan–the Waldorf Astoria to be exact. As I’m sitting in the lobby taking advantage of the free Internet and doing some people watching, you would never believe we are in a down economy. The place is hopping with business people, all on what seem to be important missions–at least they act like they’re important. Of course, part of the explanation for the activity is that many of the investment banking firms moved to midtown from the financial district after September 11 and the Waldorf seems to be at the center of things. Even our President thinks there is money here because he came to Manhattan for two Democrate Party fundraisers last night.
So why am I here? Well, yesterday the public company whose board I sit on rang the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange to celebrate our 15th anniversary. For those who have seen the opening or closing bells on Fox Business News or CNBC, you probably didn’t know that it’s all choreographed very carefully. At exactly one minute before the close, everyone starts clapping and smiling. Then at 15 seconds to the hour, the CEO of the company presses the bell and holds it for the final 15 seconds while we all continue to clap and smile. Do you know how hard it is to clap and smile for a solid minute? Actually, it’s longer because as long as the camera is on us, we have to smile and clap.At precisely 4:00 p.m. eastern time the CEO whacks the gavel on a 100 year old round tree stump and the stock exchange closes. It’s an amazing experience.
The stock exchange was started by Alexander Hamilton and in those days they traded stock by paper, one trade at a time. Today, the floor of the exchange is relatively more quiet because everything is digital, but it’s still a happening place with a couple dozen news agencies operating from the floor ready to report the latest changes. If you ever get the chance to visit the NYSE, take it – it is capitalism in action.