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Richard Dennis

F T L
2 minute read

A teenager starts trading with borrowed pizza delivery money and ends up training “The Turtles” how to be ninjas in the market.

Richard Dennis was born in Chicago in 1949. He got his start in trading as a 17 year old kid in the pit of the famous Chicago Mercantile Exchange. He was hired for $1.60/hour as a runner — a broker employee who communicates the orders of customers to the floor traders.

This led to Dennis trading his own account on another smaller exchange, the MidAm. Since he wasn’t yet the required age of 21, his dad was the trader in an official sense, with Dennis making the trading decisions and being technically listed as a runner. This is in spite of the fact that his father was not fond of the market, due to his Richard’s grandfather losing a lot of money in the great depression.

These experiences drew Dennis in so much that he eventually left behind a scholarship to grad school to trade instead. He scrounged up $1600 from the life insurance plan his parents bought him, and $100 from his brother from pizza delivery. After seat fees, Richard was left with only $400 to trade with. He turned this into $3000 by 1970. By 1973 his stake had turned into $100,000. In 1974 he made half a million on soybeans alone, and he had become a millionaire at the age of 25.

After he had become a notable success at trading, Richard would host gatherings at the his apartment or that of his trader friend Tom Willis. They would buy copious amounts of chicken and potato salad and have 50 or more new traders pack into the tiny apartment, all to learn from Richard. He was a natural at teaching and was inspired by the idea that trading allows a person to break through stereotypical class boundaries.

Eventually Richard had succeeded so much at the MidAm that he felt it was almost necessary that he move up to the big league. In 1975, he got an office in the Chicago Board of Trade with a trader named Larry Carroll, called C&D Commodities. Richard was the leader of the two, and took a bigger share of the profits. Some people thought he was crazy to leave his spot as top dog of The Pit, to go trade among giants like Salomon Brothers and Pillsbury. Richard Dennis has never been one to listen to opinions that clash with his deeply held beliefs.

Dennis did succeed in the big leagues, with some bumps in the road at first. By the early 1980s he was famous for making over $200 million through his trading. He traded technically and focussed a lot on trends and how to profit from them.

Richard Dennis is a true zero to hero story. In the next article we will explore how Richard shared this same journey with some students he hand picked in a sort of social experiment. He assembled a group of aspiring traders from all backgrounds that came to be known as The Turtles.

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