The trading game, and its legendary leading players

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Luiz F Costa Macambira (Left) and George Prokopiou (Right). Photo courtesy Luiz Costa Macambira

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Trading has been around since ingenious hunter gatherers decided to work smarter rather than harder, and like most practices, it has evolved over time. With progress comes scale, and though countless individuals play in the trading game, few come out on top with immense financial gains.

Extraordinarily successful traders can be found across every industry—from coffee to gold, pork belly to heating oil, no commodity has been left unturned, or rather untraded. As the systems of operations became increasingly more sophisticated, financial and commodities traders made large sums of money for themselves and their investors, once the New York and London Exchanges were established in the late 1700’s.

To become an effective trader, one needs deep knowledge of a particular field and market, and to have particularly thick skin. Markets tend to be unstable and competition breeds drama, meaning it is not a place for those easily shaken. The average trader is not fated with becoming a household name that goes down in history—very few reach such prestige for specific trading styles, innovation, or for amassing large sums of money in a market. The road to the top is never easy, or straightforward.

While today, many success stories focus on the stock market, it was commodities that yielded the greatest returns in the past—and some still do today.

Billionaire Steve Cohen, came from a poker and economic background and was known for his frequent and rapid trading, and Jesse Livermore pioneered “day trading,” and shorted the 1929 market crash, and George Soros earned the moniker “The Man Who Broke the Bank of England” in 1992 after his short sale of $10 billion worth of pounds.

The Hunt brothers cornered the silver market by preaching their gospel of silver as the true haven in the upcoming inflationary environment, and John Paulson made his millions when he shorted the real estate market during the stock crisis of 2007 betting against mortgage-backed securities, instead investing in credit default swaps.

Then there was Luiz Costa Macambira, an expert derivatives trader who left his mark on the commodity market. Costa Macambira opted for the trading equivalent of “the road less traveled,” by using coffee as his futures’ market playground. But what set his career apart was not necessarily the good being traded, but how and where. He notoriously nearly cornered the coffee market in Russia in the nineties. His adventure bore him the nickname “King of Coffee”— apt, given he amassed more influence over the Russian market than any other trader before him. 

All trading legends in their own right, each managed to thrive in their respective areas, earning a great deal of recognition along the way. While finding success in one field is considered an incredible feat for most, taking on several, especially in starkly different industries and dominating their competitive markets, is an accomplishment few can add to their list of accolades. Many traders moved on to other careers following their accomplishments. Jimmy Wales founded Wikipedia, John Key served as the Prime Minister of New Zealand, and Luiz Costa Macambira went on to become a media mogul. The transitions and dominance in the new fields is a testament to their entrepreneurial abilities and tenacity.

Leading traders who have left their marks on the market have the same things in common, they possess specific traits and work rigorously to develop others. The industry tends to expose vulnerabilities and strengths we didn’t know we had. It requires a great deal of patience, lots of  discipline, , adaptability, mental toughness, independence, and above all else, forward-thinking.