The year was 1993 and I was a 24 year old kid about to interview with Merrill Lynch to become a broker trainee. I was sporting a very cool goatee (Van Dyke) and my father advised me to shave it off.
“Son, they hire clean cut people, not hippies.” (Keep in mind this was a former NYPD Homicide detective during the 70’s saying this to me.)
I’d watched the movie, “Wall Street” about 100 times, so I knew it was all about the fresh-shaven, clean cut, slicked back hair look that was the norm. The close-cut guy was the hero – the hitter. All the movies during that time sported the close-cut hero type. Like in the movie “Top Gun,” all the clean cut pilots are there to save the world.
I felt like I’d be looked down upon, not part of the club. And man, did I want to be part of the club. So for the next two years I was a completely shaven, slicked back hair (Gordon Gekko style), bow tie and braces wearing Financial Advisor trainee.
I bent to the pressure – I conformed.
I ultimately learned over a 20 year Wall Street career that with or without facial, it didn’t matter much.
My Journey on Wall Street
I started on a trading floor in 1995 and we always wore suits. By 1998 we had dress down Fridays and then by 2000 it was casual dress all the time. Attitudes changed about what “professional” meant. I was working for a subsidiary of a global bank as a trader in shorts and a Polo shirt. What constituted being “professional?” Was it a look or an attitude? Or both?
Retail brokerages were still all about image because they were more client facing, but sales ultimately boiled down to a trust and relational game. So much that the “close cut” superficiality started to wear off and a beard was seen more as a look of wisdom from people who have weathered rocky markets.
You needed that during the 2008 meltdown.
I was back on the institutional side, executing trades for a hedge fund trader, and we bought Bear Stearns stock the night before they went bankrupt. Nothing like a $2 million loss to start out your day. That morning I got the call. “Sell it!” - He didn’t need to tell me the name - “just sell it and don’t ever f***ing talk about it again!”
How to Take Your Beard to Work
During your career (or if you're just starting out with one), have you asked yourself these questions?
Do I feel looked down upon because of my beard?
Does my beard hurt me professionally?
Do I look unprofessional?
These are the types of questions that make us doubt ourselves – who we are as men – men with beards. We may convince ourselves that in the corporate world everyone should be completely shaven.
Why do business leaders, actors and athletes with beards not care what people think about their appearance? Is it the money? When they have all the money or success they want, they have confidence – confidence to not care what others think. So what would happen if the money was taken away?
The beard and the confidence came before the money. The money/success is a byproduct of the confidence. The beard is an outward expression of an inner confidence.
You can take it from the top. Today’s leaders have beards which represents an independent, entrepreneurial spirit even within typically “white shoe” institutions.
Here are some of the biggest business names with long term beards:
Steve Jobs – The late Apple CEO was one of the best examples of how the image of a CEO has changed over the years with his well trimmed, graying beard. That independent style reflected his image as an against-the-stream kind of guy and an innovator.
Steve Wozniak, Apple – Everybody loves Woz and his Grizzly Adams/geek chic mashup.
Larry Ellison, Oracle – Does not care what you or anyone else thinks about his beard. He has software to sell – from his 288 ft. yacht. The 3rd richest man in America with a $55 Billion net worth. Yes, $55 Billion.
Marc Benioff, Salesforce.com – Is the CEO & owns $3 Billion worth of Salesforce.com stock. That’s what you get when you disrupt the SaaS industry and become the leader in sales automation. Benioff was mentored by Larry Ellison.
Sir Richard Branson, Virgin - The coolest CEO around. From record shop to Virgin Galactic, he’s always had a beard.
Anyone out there notice how many billionaires have beards? Coincidence? I think not.
Change in perception of the Beard
There’s been a noticeable change in perception as relates to beards in the workplace. We’ve gone from the “homeless guy” look to a man of wisdom. From “he must be hiding something” because our beard covers our face, to the transparency of a man comfortable with himself by being himself. Gone also are the thoughts of “dude just doesn’t want to shave because he’s lazy” to “here’s a guy who cares what he looks like and makes that beard look good” because the negative assumptions are disappearing.
Those assumptions are changing due to attitude and work ethic, which are a result of confidence.
If you feel good and look good, you will work better. You’ll be more productive and effective at your job. If your beard makes you feel and look good, it gives you confidence in the way you carry yourself and interact with people. It leads to a positive attitude.
Confidence is a force multiplier. Force Multipliers help you amplify your effort to produce more output. A hammer is a force multiplier. Confidence as a force multiplier is intangible, but creates an attitude and mindset that helps you get more done with the same amount of effort.
It means you will be better at work, better at communicating and better at all of your relationships. It’s a confidence that exudes – whether it’s in the boardroom, barroom or bedroom.
Isn’t that what it’s all about? A man who is free to be himself – independent, creative and confident? Unhampered by the negative opinions of others? Is that type of guy just going to sit around on the couch all day doing nothing?
No, that dude is going to make shit happen.
A Beard is Confidence
It boils down to confidence. What makes you confident? If having a beard (where you feel strong, solid and confident) is a bad thing in people’s eyes then I don’t want to be good. Give me my beard.
We are in a much more accepting society – accepting of so many more things than back in the mid 90’s when I was coming up in Wall St. – beards shouldn’t be an issue. One thing that mattered then that matters now – performance. Who cares what you look like as long as you get the job done and do it well. You make me money? Wear a clown suit for all I care.
Perform. Make a good trade, sell that house for me, write a killer article, teach my kids and help them get good grades, build that dream house of mine, get me that loan at a good rate so I can buy that dream house. Professionalism is not just a look – it’s an attitude. Attitude comes from confidence. What makes you confident and secure? It all ties in.
Performance... and performance comes from confidence.
I know I feel confident, and feel like I have wisdom because I’ve weathered life’s storms – I worked on Wall St for 20+ years – the dotcom boom, the financial meltdown. I had my own financial struggles and plenty of challenges. I’d been a part of corporate downsizing. I was divorced and raising 4 small children as a single dad for 8 years before I met and married the woman of my dreams. She says it was my confidence that attracted her to me.
These struggles are why I have grey in my beard. I’ve lived. I’ve endured. I’ve overcome.
You don’t need to have worked for 20 years or have grey in your beard to be confident. You can have it right now as a young guy starting out. Take pride in your beard, your appearance, attitude and effort.
About the Author
Dave Rynne is a freelance B2B/B2C copywriter and blogger who uses his 20+ years of sales experience to take 26 letters and craft them into persuasive words that help you gain a larger following, build brand awareness, and make more sales.
You can read more at DaveRynne.com or check his beard out via his Instagram account: @dtrynne
This article was edited and updated for April 2018 by Wil Mouradian