Peter Nussbaum would like the record to reflect that this is just a costume Steve wears sometimes. He doesn’t *actually* look like this.
For the July issue of Vanity Fair, Bryan Burrough has the second only on the record interview with Steve Cohen. Burroughs previously hinted that he was able to seal the deal with Steve due to the fact that it would offer Cohen’s wife, Alex, a highly coveted opportunity to be shot by Annie Liebowitz. And sure, that probably helped things (the billionaire secretly loves having his photo taken, and in another life had dreams of being a male model). But beyond that, it’s clear that Steve and his people were ready for some Real Talk. Sick and tired they are of being seen as recluses who keep themselves ensconced in a hermetically-sealed full body condom. Sick and tired they are of having people assume that underneath their clothes, they’re entirely covered in scar tissue. Sick and tired they are of the whispers, the rumors, the theories, that they’re control freaks who will never let go. SICK AND TIRED THEY ARE OF THE ASSUMPTIONS THEY DON’T SAY PLEASE AND THANK YOU. Sick and tired they are of the nicknames. And so now, they’re opening up, like never before. ‘Cause they’ve got some things they’d like to clear up. A few things they want you to know, so you don’t just go making it all up on your own. Are you ready for this truth? This truth to be laid on your ass? Steve’s general counsel, Peter Nassbaum, will start.
* And it pertains to the photo above. “Steve has been characterized unfairly,” Peter A. Nussbaum, his general counsel says, “He doesn’t have two horns and a tail.” ***
* Poker was Steve’s way out of his life as a fruit boy. “A group of us, we started playing cards at each other’s houses, all day, then all night,” he remembers. “The stakes started at, like, a quarter, 50 cents. Eventually we got up to 5, 10, or 20 bucks a re- placement card, and by 10th grade you could win or lose a thousand dollars in a night.” By the beginning of 11th grade Cohen was making so much money at poker he began to question his summer job as a $1.85-an-hour “fruit boy” at the Bohack supermarket. “I was making $500 to a thousand most nights,” he recalls, “so I said, ‘What am I doing this for?’ And so I decided to quit and just played cards.”
* Steve Cohen doesn’t think about money, which is something some of you PM’s who contributed to last month’s losses might wanna think about reminding him of. I think it’ll go over well. “It’s the same with trading,” he goes on. “I think about the risk. I think about the trade. I don’t think about the money.
* Steve Cohen has manners! He will say “please” bend over the table so I can tear you a new asshole for losing me money you worthless slithering virus! Cohen breaks from our conversation every minute or two to make a stock order. “Buy me 200,000 J&H, please,” he says; a voice from the speaker repeats the order. Cohen’s temper, especially in his early years, was notorious, and when I raise an eyebrow, he says, “I know, isn’t this civil? It’s usually minus the ‘please.’ Sometimes I say, ‘May I … May I please buy … If you’re not bothered.’ ” He returns to his screen. “Shell, take me up to a million, please,” he says. (The names of the stocks Cohen mentions have been changed here at his request.)
* Not only that, but contrary to popular belief of the outside world, he’s here to serve you. I want everyone working at 72CPR to remember this. You want a snack? Maybe a moist towelette? He’s got you covered. More than happy to do it. Any number of voices emanate from his speaker. Can anyone call?, I ask. “Oh yeah, anyone can call me,” he says. “For anything. A soda. I’ll get them a soda. I’m full-service.”
* A couple years ago, he would have literally put you through a wall if you referred to him as Stevie, which, by the by, is a nickname he does not care for. Now? He’ll just make a mental note to have you “dealt” with by people you do not want a piece of.“Wall Street develops these myths about people, a persona, and things stick, even if you change,” he says, displaying a rare flash of consternation. “I mean, they still call me ‘Stevie,’ and I’m 54 years old. It drives my wife crazy.”
* Mrs. Cohen attributes the change in her man to his Brush With Death. Cohen’s new fame was nearing its height in 2003 when, out of nowhere, he noticed numbness in his right foot. Next he experienced a strange tingling in his fingers. A doctor recommended an M.R.I., which showed that Cohen had a bulging disk; two vertebrae were compressing his spinal nerves, causing sciatica. His own doctors suggested surgery, but Cohen begged off, hoping it would go away. It didn’t. By August he was stricken with searing pains in his neck and shoulders. He finally agreed to the surgery. It was very scary. It was pretty freaky.” Many people go through life changes after such a near-death experience, and Cohen’s wife, Alex, noticed them in her husband. “That was a terrible experience,” she says. “I think we both came out of that thinking, ‘Small things just don’t matter anymore.’ He spent more time thinking about the family, more time with the kids.
* Which he says is bull shit, and if you want him to prove to you that he’s highly capable of giving you that second asshole you’ve always wanted, with his own two hands, let’s go. “Nah, that’s bullshit,” Cohen says when his wife is out of hearing range. “I’m still capable, like any football or baseball coach, of losing my temper, but I’m just a lot calmer than I was 10 or 20 years ago. I don’t think people change too much. Maybe a little around the edges. You grow up, maybe just get a little more mature.”
* How about you, Pedro? You got anything to say? “I remember in January 2001, right after our best year ever, we had this management meeting, and Steve was pounding the table, going, ‘We got nothing! We suck! We have to tear this place down!’ ” recalls the general counsel, Peter Nussbaum. “The next January it was the same thing. Every January he’s the same. One year I finally said, ‘Steve, why don’t we just smoke what we got?’ But no. He’s just never been very impressed by what we’ve done.”
* How about you, Conheeney, you want to try something, you sexy Silver Fox? You wanna tell him he’s beautiful and he needs to start seeing the Steve we all see? Be my guest, Tonto.“Steve doesn’t really understand his own persona, this iconic status he has,” says Thomas Conheeney, SAC’s president. “We try to get him to go talk to these business groups, and he goes, ‘Why would they want to hear anything I have to say?’”
* This isn’t so revelatory, but just for future reference, that is an ice pack in his pants, and he’s not particularly happy to see you. On this day, Cohen is working at home due to his aching lower back, and as I take a seat he jams a bright-blue ice pack down his jeans and wedges himself into a wing chair, propping himself stiffly like a vertical sardine.
* And while he may not have the full range of motion necessary to tell you how he really feels, he knows someone more than happy to give it you. “We didn’t even eat. We just talked for hours,” Mrs. Cohen recalls of their first date. “I knew he was the one that first night. I remember I went home and told everyone that I just met the man I’m going to marry.” Cohen took some convincing—the divorce still stung—but when Alex gave him a deadline, he caved in and proposed. “She’s tough,” Cohen says with a smile. “My wife, she’s tough.”
* He can give this up any time, any place. He doesn’t need you. He doesn’t need any of you! When I express skepticism that he could walk away from a career as one of the most heralded Wall Street traders of the last half-century, he leans forward and jams a finger at me, Uncle Sam–style: “I’m telling you that, within a year, if I don’t want to trade anymore, I won’t have to. As the firm grows, it needs to change and evolve. I also need to do that. I’m setting things up where the firm will be better able to leverage our ideas and be more profitable and have more capital than if I was doing it as we have done before. There’s a lot of other things I can do. I don’t have to sit at the desk. Seriously, I’ve got nothing left to prove. I’ve been doing this 33 years, I’ve been to the top of the mountain, and there’s not much there. My dream is to liberate myself.
* Above all, know this one thing to be true. Steve Cohen will survive. Hey, hey! It was at that point [after 2008's losses], Cohen realized, that he had to get back to basics. “My dad had a saying, ‘Shoemakers make shoes,’ ” he says. Today SAC is back to making shoes, i.e., investing mainly in stocks. “We’re back to where we were in 2003,” Cohen goes on. “I wouldn’t call it perfect. I mean, the world fell apart. Lehman, Goldman, Fannie Mae—this was a once-in-50-years phenomenon. Everything you thought was true wasn’t true. These rocks, these pillars of the industry, were not. The world imploded. We made the right decisions. We made money last year. We’re a survivor.”
***It was nice of Peter to throw cold water on that theory, though some of the SAC staff probably would have thought it even nicer if he’d proposed another one, which is that– and this is just a theory, hasn’t been scientifically proven– he’s the biggest dick at 72 Cummings Point Road, having been known to inform people that their meeting with him is over by telling them to “fucking leave” his office, and has on at least one occasion, refused to sign something for an employee until said employee “took a shower.” Though maybe that guy had it coming.