Memories of ringing the NYSE Bell

My grandfather was as blue collar as you get. He worked in an Atlanta Ford plant his entire working career – and not in an office. A good man who worked hard and took the lessons of the depression seriously. He saved a lot and invested over and over in one company (Southern Company) which had a cyclical stock. When he died he left his children a sum far above that expected from a blue collar guy. When I think of ringing the bell at the NYSE, I can’t help but think of my grandfather who probably never imagined me being there. He would have loved these memories.

Professionally, this is probably one of the things I get asked about the most. Mainly people wonder what the exchange floor is like (small). Or how the pomp and circumstance plays out (more casual than you think). I have a few extremely distinct memories: standing by the bull (you know the one), being amazed by the technology throughout the exchange, having a huge breakfast, and the moment when we (by that, I mean Teavana’s CEO) rang the bell to open the NYSE. But it was more than that and this is my attempt to detail what happened and how I remember it. This is a personal recollection and I’m not sure it’s valuable for anything more.Our Ritz hotel room

Teavana went public on July 28, 2011. The prior day we flew up and stayed at the Ritz Carlton Battery Park with rooms overlooking the Statue of Liberty. Each room included a telescope for a better look at Lady Liberty – and New Jersey, of course. That night we had a great dinner in a private, second-story room at Megu in Tribeca. The food was good and the restaurant seemed perfect for an Asian-themed retailer to go public. They had a cool ice Buddha sculpture that was changed daily. I particularly remember the Sake and enjoying a fun night with co-workers. That night our CEO announced the higher-than-expected price we were going to launch TEA at. It was fun all around.Megu Ice Sculpture

The next morning everyone woke early and headed over to the NYSE. I walked over with David Staels, our VP of HR, and we made a point to walk directly past the bull. I remember being energized and very excited. The NYSE was adorned with Teavana banners and featured a geisha out front performing the Japanese Tea Ceremony and serving many cups of Teavana matcha.NYSE Teavana launch

One funny story: early in the history of Teavana, we used a specific Japanese model as a geisha in what became an iconic Teavana image. Our CEO tracked down the model to use as the geisha in our NYSE activities. We assumed she knew how to make matcha (it’s not that difficult!). However, when she arrived we found out fast that she wasn’t a tea drinker at all. So she was given a quick lesson in matcha and the Japanese tea service on the morning of our public launch. It worked out great, but you’re never prepared for every eventuality.

Once inside the NYSE, the technology is what struck me. Walls were covered with screens that branded the NYSE and offered information to guests. It’s an old building, but the rebirth of the NYSE as a technology-first company, where the technology is maybe the only thing that matters, really came across. We still think of the NYSE floor as the center of the financial world, but it’s the servers that do the actual work. The floor isn’t pure drama and acting at this point, but it’s also not a necessary component of the NYSE’s trading. That revelation stuck with me going forward and has become more true over the years. How long will people continue coming to ring the bell?NYSE from Bell Ringing Balcony

We started the day with a great breakfast deep inside the NYSE. The room featured a mock Teavana tea wall along with a massive breakfast table. It was a nice meal that ended with the president of the NYSE offering a plaque to our CEO as a reminder of the day. Then, right on cue, we all walked up a hallway to the small balcony where the button to ring the bell is located. It is an actual button that theoretically kicks off the market activities for the day. CNBC was broadcast into our offices back in Atlanta so the rest of the gang could celebrate with us. I stood on the left side of the balcony right behind our SVP of Stores and we were told when our CEO was supposed to push the button. We stayed for a few minutes after and then walked down to the floor.NYSE Small Floor

I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but the floor of the NYSE is very small. It seemed smaller than the room we had breakfast in, but of course it wasn’t. It was much smaller than it looks to me on tv. I was told this repeatedly before going, but I can’t emphasize it enough: that floor is small. We walked down stairs onto the floor and waited near a terminal to hear where TEA (our ticker symbol) would begin trading. It took longer than I expected for us to get the first price, but it was interesting watching the guys in the blue jackets do their thing. It made me think of the old market makers on the floor actually conducting the business in a crazy environment. The floor activities still seem the same: guys yelling what sounds like prices and participating in an event that has driven the world for a long, long time.Trading TEA

Eventually, the floor trader looking at our position turned and announced TEA’s opening price. It was significantly up from where we priced the stock (everybody prices too low these days). Good news all around and a hell of a way to start a day. I think at this point I was half giddy, half dazed and maybe a little amazed at the overall event. We walked out of the relatively dim floor into bright, sunny daylight in lower Manhattan. After ringing the bell, we took pictures in front of the NYSE and walked over to the bull. We also took pictures there, but found out later that the enterprising artist expects a payment if those pictures are used in public way. So I’m not sure where they ended up.bull

It was a pretty amazing twenty four hours in NYC that I’m not likely to forget. And going from a private company to a public one is a pretty significant shift in all things; it was transformational not just personally, but professionally as well.

Afterwards, we enjoyed NYC for a bit and then headed back to the airport towards Atlanta. My grandfather had passed away, obviously, before my voyage to the NYSE. But what I wouldn’t give to have a conversation with him about it. It would have meant so much to me.

Hope you enjoyed my thoughts. Not too detailed, but fun to remember!

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