NEW YORK -- "While on a joint exercise with the Republic of Korea Marines in South Korea in March 1963, we were hit by a typhoon. Having taken one course in meteorology at university, I felt roughly conversant with the situation. When the battalion commander asked my advice about the storm, I told him, 'We're in the eye,' and that we'd soon be smacked by the other side of the typhoon. The colonel moved the entire battalion, rolling stock and all, into concrete hangars. Within minutes of this maneuver, the sun shone brightly and did so for many weeks to come. The 'We're in the eye' has followed me to this day amongst those with whom I have served."
Now in the eye of a whirlwind of activity on Wall Street, former Marine captain Guy Wyser-Pratte sits behind his desk with "No whining" and "It can be done" signs prominently displayed in front. His straightforward attitude presides over the corner office, decorated with various Marine Corps paraphernalia. As president of Wyser-Pratte & Co., Inc., one of the world's oldest international arbitrage companies, he has been called "the dean of the arbitrage community," by the Wall Street Journal.
Recalling his memories of leaving France as a seven-year-old, the imposing man, dressed in a gray suit, glanced out the window at the city. After two rocky weeks aboard ship, the French immigrant gazed upon the growing skyline of Manhattan. After a brief stop at Ellis Island, he was welcomed to New York City with a St. Patrick's Day Parade. Seeing the celebration he thought to himself, "This is a great country, everyone's having a great time."
"There was a different, rather somber atmosphere in France after the war," said Wyser-Pratte as the usual smile left his face. "Not much gaiety in the streets of Paris at that time."
From the streets of France to the streets of New York, Wyser-Pratte adapted to his new country as any child would, through friends and sports.
"I didn't speak English yet so the way I learned English was to become a baseball player," said Wyser-Pratte. "That was my way of communicating ... when that ground ball goes through your legs and they're screaming, 'Hey Frenchy!' you learn quick," he said.
Going to school in the suburbs of New York City, he received a Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps scholarship to go to college. It included an obligation to serve four years active duty after graduation. With a brother already in the Marine Corps, the decision to take the Marine option was an easy one. After graduating in June of 1962, he went to the officers candidate school and was out in six months; the length of the school at that time.
"As an immigrant I knew I had an obligation to serve my country," said Wyser-Pratte. "I owed it to my country to be in the military and I might as well be with the best so there was only one way to go for me ... that was the Marines."
After spending 13 months as a platoon commander in the 3rd Marine Division with 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, Wyser-Pratte sent in a special request to Headquarters Marine Corps to be sent anywhere the Corps needed French speakers, since he was fluent in French. The Marine Corps however, had other plans for him.
"They sent me to the Brooklyn Navy Yard," said Wyser-Pratte with a grin. "I certainly wasn't happy to be back in New York because I didn't join the Marine Corps to wind up back in New York, but I took advantage of it. It was an interesting duty station."
While guard officer at the Navy Yard, Wyser-Pratte took classes at night toward his master's degree at a local university. He admitted being stationed at the Navy Yard wasn't that bad, but he couldn't wait to get back into the Fleet Marine Force.
After eight months in Brooklyn, he reported to the 2nd Infantry Training Regiment in October 1964 to serve as the company commander at Camp Lejeune. While there he was promoted to captain and in January 1966 he reported to the 2nd Interrogator, Translator Team, also in Lejeune, where he was finally able to use his language skills.
In June 1966, Wyser-Pratte made the hard decision to leave the Corps. He loved the Corps, the people and the lifestyle, but other pressures were weighing on his shoulders.
"I was ambivalent about getting out," said Wyser-Pratte. "I might not have, had it been for the obligation on my part to take over the family firm, because if I didn't it would have been liquidated. It was something that had long history ... it was important to me, it was important to the family and I was the only one who had an interest in finance. So I was the one selected to run it."
The day after he was discharged from the Corps he "reported" to work. As he was learning the trade from his father, he was going to college at night to finish up his MBA.
The greatest obstacle Wyser-Pratte found in transitioning from the Marine Corps to the civilian world was the people. He felt as if he couldn't understand their "frame of reference."
"I expected to find the same caliber of individual in civilian life, particularly on Wall Street, that I encountered in the Corps," said Wyser-Pratte. "I was gravely mistaken. They didn't have the same values, the same commitment to integrity or sense of honor. Whatever it is that you find within an organization like the Marine Corps, you don't find that in the civilian world and certainly not on Wall Street. Everyone is out for themselves ... if someone can take advantage of you, they will, because they get the upper hand and benefit somehow."
Wyser-Pratte recalled helping a business associate out of a difficult situation on one occasion after being at the firm for only a couple of months. His associate, who had been in the industry for more than 45 years, later told Wyser-Pratte that in all his years on Wall Street no one had helped him before. Wyser-Pratte thought he was just doing the right thing and quickly realized he had left the Marine Corps.
"I was very disillusioned," he added. "It wasn't until I really developed a corporate governance side that I found something rewarding."
Many ideas from the Corps have imprinted themselves into Wyser-Pratte's work ethic. He credits the Corps with his persistence and endurance and added that he learned that even "the worst plan, if executed aggressively, can succeed."
His advice for Marines still in or leaving the Corps is to, keep the values the Corps has taught you.
"Have the courage of your convictions and to follow them and to not back off on what those convictions are and to show people you believe in them," said Wyser-Pratte. "To me that kind of being out front of situations and to stand for something ... it's that kind Marine Corps inspired leadership that keeps us going."
Wyser-Pratte is still active within the realm of the Marine Corps. He is a trustee of the Marine Corps University Foundation Quantico and supports various local Marine Corps related fundraisers.
As a trustee of the foundation, Wyser-Pratte aids in the support of all the schools that comprise the Marine Corps University. The foundation provides funds for battle studies, staff rides, visiting scholars and the professional reading program for Fleet Marine Forces units and separate commands as well as sponsoring annual lectures, symposiums and luncheons throughout the year.