Michael Toma is a risk management specialist and performance coach for companies and individual traders. He is the author of, ‘The Risk of Trading, Mastering the Most Important Element in Financial Speculation’, which has been used as the framework for traders seeking to improve their risk and trading performance. Mike is a speaker, lecturer, traveling trader, and corporate consultant for companies looking to improve their results and compliance through the enterprise risk management approach.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I’m a New Jersey boy and grew up in a suburb about 20 miles outside of NYC. My family was as middle class as the middle class gets. My Dad owned a printing shop. He worked his tail off to provide for the family and I worked side-by-side with him during my college years. At an early age, I learned about work ethic, bending over backward for customers, and seeing my Dad put all his effort to get three kids thru college. He would close the business for one week a year and the family would head to the beaches in Wildwood, NJ, which is like an unwritten law for families in NJ.
I was an avid sports buff and played baseball and hockey until I took a puck in the forehead. I played defense while everyone wanted the spotlight and be the goal scorer. In my eyes, preventing a goal was equally as valuable as scoring one. It was this very mindset that set the groundwork for my specialization in risk management.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
I wish I took more risks and didn’t take things so seriously earlier in my career. I played the company game because, well, that’s what we were told to do. Work hard, be likable, get your annual increases and you can retire in 40 years..woohoo! I was always stressed trying to be perfect at everything. Once I left corporate life, all I kept saying was, ‘why didn’t I do this years ago?’ ‘What was I worried about?’.
I also found myself thinking about what others thought about me. I had likeability as one of my most important goals. Truth be told, it’s still somewhere on the list but you can’t please everyone, and many will disappoint. Just focus on being the best person to the most important people in your life.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
The term ‘risk management’ has a conservative, protective and passive tone to it. It doesn’t promote the benefits of taking a calculated risk. We are a very passive society and people love to walk along with the herd. I’m one of those few risk professionals who think we should be taking more risks in life, especially the younger generation just starting out. Fail and fail more and learn from each failure. Who wants to be average anyway?
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
I had a learning and comprehension disability early in life and almost was left back a grade. I recall these after-school learning sessions where I would sneak in and out so my peers wouldn’t see me. I had trouble retaining what I had just read, whether it was a short story or notes during music lessons. My drum teacher once threw a drumstick at me for missing a beat. I wish I could tell that angry man that I became an author and filled conference rooms at Caesars during a book tour but I’m not bitter and would thank him over coffee if I met him on the street. It was a different time back then when everyone didn’t get a trophy.
I recently lost my Dad. It is an emptiness I’ve never felt before. It will affect me for a very long time but it really has sparked more interest in philanthropy. Random acts of kindness have such an impact on people and have very quickly inserted their place in my life’s purpose.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
Without question, my ability to quickly identify a problem, assess the impact and make quick decisions by taking action. It’s such a critical skill set in my world. I’m really concerned about the younger generation today regarding this skillset but I’m hopeful. When I interview people, I give them a quick math problem. I’m not looking for the correct answer. If it’s a little off, that’s fine. Just take a guess and make a decision. The ones that ponder in the chair and say they will get back to me often will not have the opportunity to get back to me.
Developing a personal network and building relationships really took my career to the next level and is one of the most valuable components to my success. In Chinese, they call it ‘guanxi’ and is a must-have in eastern cultures. Developing trustworthy relationships is worth every minute of effort. My wife played a big role here since I always thought sales was about getting people to buy something. It’s about relationships, nurturing your network, finding the needs, and providing a solution.
What is your morning routine?
I’m an early bird. I’m up by 5 am and most of my daily goals are reached by noon. Exercise, slack chat, coffee, pre-market assessment – all should be completed by 9 am. I also address any urgent issues from my overseas clients who need my replies early. By 11:00 am, the must-dos should be done. I love what I do so waking up at 5 am on a Monday is exciting for me. When it isn’t, I know it’s time to hang it up.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
I realized that people really didn’t really hire me as a subject matter expert or a coach. They hired me to be a fixer. They have a problem and want me to provide a solution. It’s a skill set that never goes out of demand. I love when someone says “we can’t do that”, then the fixer in me goes right to work. This mindset also has expanded my business beyond the walls of the financial sector and I enjoy learning about different industries.
After my first book, I had to quickly learn the art of public speaking for conferences and engagements. The combo of writing and speaking took my career to a level I never expected nor was I prepared for. Within months I went from being a geek from New Jersey to speaking at conferences along with the industry elite. I spend lots of time finding new ways to articulate finance with the goal of reaching different audiences. Enjoy the journey and live life rather than just passing thru it and look to enrich people’s lives with each opportunity.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
Overplanning is a bit over-rated for me. I see some people’s calendars and it’s fully blocked in different colors and such. I need prep time between each planned event to be sure I’m on my game and can add the most value. It’s what I see the concept of business savvy being all about. I want my interactions, even during a brief zoom call, to make an impression. Cranking out meetings and tasks will guarantee complete success but it’s the quality of my product and the impact I had on a person or business that is how I measure success. It separates just completing a day vs. the goal of making the world a better place and enriching people’s lives.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
Trading in the Zone by Mark Douglas is the one book that really influenced my career and quotes it often during speaking engagements. It’s a reference book in my eyes. I read a lot every day but with exception of a good autobiography on vacation, I’m not an avid book reader. I find it important to give the brain a divergence and read books outside of the financial markets and business to give me balance and joy. Autobiographical books from rock musicians are my go-to enjoyment space.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
‘Fear is overpriced’. 90% of the things we worry about never happen.
‘Failure is part of the success process’. When I was working in the corporate sector, I once went to my boss after a solid annual review. I told him I was disappointed in his assessment and to assign me something I can potentially fail at. The next few years my performance score leveled off but I learned so much more and ultimately was the launching pad for my future success.
‘’…and in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make’’. Can never go wrong with a Lennon/McCartney lyric but it’s really amazing how life brings you more when you give. It’s not just about charity and the like. It’s doing good work and providing exceptional value to everything you do. I’m a numbers person but it’s amazing how things come to you when you enrich people’s lives.