Income: $500,000 (estimated 1999)
Health Insurance: covered by employer
“I figure I’ll make $500,000 this year. Next year a million, a year after that 20 million, then a billion.”
Warren Kelly, 33, seller of stocks, former seller of oil wells, was talking and smoking in the two-bedroom Upper East Side apartment that he rented in 45 minutes for $4000, where he has an alpaca rug carved with a polar bear, a print of George Washington over the fireplace, and a 60-inch TV on which he watches his 20 John Wayne movies like Red River, where John Wayne looks out over the dusty plain and says, “Someday all this will be covered with good beef.” Salesmen like Kelly are happy in the wide-open landscape of the American West where they can start fresh every day and make lots of money.
Is it startling to earn so much? “No. My father always did very well. I expected that I would. I grew up next to Ethel Kennedy in McLean, Virginia, outside D.C. I knew all the Kennedy kids. We had seven acres. They only had two or three. My great-grandfather started Kelly Equipment out of Cincinnati. All the men were in corporate finance. I’m one of nine kids. The others have chosen more stable lives: attorneys, lobbyists, one brother works for the CIA. It’s two blocks from the house. I’m more like my father, an entrepreneur. He passed away three months ago at 67. He used to run a casino in pre-Castro Cuba. He was dating my mother for only two weeks— she comes from a very WASPy family in Ohio— he called her from Cuba and said, ‘Come down, we’ll get married.’ She did. He told me he didn’t expect her to show up. My father was the consummate salesman.
“I went to Georgetown University, economics. I was running my own little computer company. It went out of business. I struggled for a couple of years. Got involved with an oil company out of Chattanooga, Appalachian Energy Corporation. Raised a lot of offshore money in Argentina, Brazil. The company went belly-up. I ended up with a lot of investors upset with me. I came to New York completely broke. I saw an ad in the paper: Be a stockbroker. I figured if I could sell oil wells, I could sell stock. I started at Kemper, now I’m at Dirk & Co., primarily an institutional brokerage.
“I put in a good six hours on the phone a day, 300 calls easily. I smile when I’m on the phone because I think my voice changes. These are sophisticated investors I’m talking to and to some extent I’m partially an entertainer. But I pick good stocks and help make them money.
“In my business, money is the scorecard. For architects, it’s a beautiful building. If you pick the right stocks for your clients, your business will grow. ‘Cause nobody who makes money can keep his mouth shut. They say, ‘Warren Kelly made it for me.’ Most of my clients are men. When they make money, they tell the world.”
What was his most terrible day, the day even his red-and-white Donzi speedboat or his 1962 cherry red Mercedes convertible could not cheer him up? “When I lost $60,000 in about 20 minutes. I got involved with a stock that lost 50 percent overnight. Every one of my long-term clients owned the stock, and I did too. I went down and had six or seven screwdrivers.” He goes to either the Four Seasons or the Typhoon Brewery. “That was a quick sting. At least you come in the next day and start over. With a slow bleed, losing 150 points every day for three months, it becomes an emotional thing. You have to be eternally optimistic.
“I have days, three, four in a row, where I don’t sleep. I smoke a pack a day. I used to womanize, ah, date. Now I have a girlfriend, our office manager Louise.
“If I buy somebody a stock at 10, and now it’s at five, I have to explain why. Making that call is very threatening. At that point the client could fire me. Like a wife competing for a husband who has several girlfriends. The minute you don’t perform for them, they’ll find somebody else. Yeah, I’m like the wife. But I don’t even get that goodnight kiss.”